REPORTING FROM RAMALLAH, WEST BANK -- Some Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails started a hunger strike Wednesday to protest punishments such as lengthy stays in solitary confinement, officials said.
Palestinian prisoners' support organizations said that after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent months described prison conditions as over-generous, administrators began punitive measures that made conditions worse.
Palestinian officials speaking at a news conference in Ramallah said the stricter conditions affect every aspect of prisoners' lives. They include restricted access to books and limited family visits, officials said.
The prisoners, whom Israel describes as “security prisoners,” have decided to go on an open-ended hunger strike to protest conditions. It was unclear how many of about 6,000 prisoners were refusing meals.
The issue of prisoners held in Israeli jails is considered one of the most sensitive and volatile in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Knowing the impact of this issue on the public in general, Palestinian officials constantly demand that Israel should release prisoners, and whenever Israel wants to make a goodwill gesture to the Palestinian Authority, it frees prisoners.
The Islamic militant group Hamas is demanding release of at least 1,000 prisoners, among them top Palestinian leaders, in return for the release of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas has been holding for more than five years.
-- Maher Abukhater
Photo: Supporters of Palestinians held in Israeli jails demonstrate in Ramallah. Credit: Abbas Momani / AFP/Getty Images