Hundreds of Palestinians held by Israel launch hunger strike

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Issa Qaraqe, head of prisoners affairs for the Palestinian Authority, said Monday that "around 1,300 Palestinian prisoners" were participating in the hunger strike and the number could rise. In 2011, Israel swapped more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier who had been held by Hamas for five years.

The New York Times has given precious space on its op-ed page to a Palestinian man leading a hunger strike in an Israeli prison.

Barghouti is serving five life sentences after being convicted in an Israeli court of directing lethal attacks during the Second Intifada, in a trial in which he refused to offer a defence, maintaining the court was illegitimate. Barghouti is considered to be Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' successor. The day also marks "Palestinian Prisoners" Day, ' an annual event held in support of Palestinian political prisoners.

It comes in protest of the inhumane detention conditions that Palestinian prisoners continue to face.

There are more than 6500 Palestinians in Israeli jails, including 500 prisoners held without charges or a trial, according to the prisoners' commission.

Calling for Arab and worldwide human rights groups to expose Israeli violations against the Palestinian prisoners, the Arab League also called for an global mission to investigate the conditions in which they are held in Israel's prisons.

Two leading Israeli human rights groups describe the conditions in prisons such as Shikma Prison in southern Israel as "hellish", with some inmates reportedly shackled to chairs during interrogation and held in solitary confinement in cramped and foul smelling cells no more than two metres long.

The prisoners also demand to have periodic medical checkups and to increase the number of visits by the International Red Cross.

"The prisons service has started taking disciplinary measures against the strikers and in addition a number of prisoners have been transferred to separate wings", he said. 21 prisoners have cancer, 34 suffer from various psychological and physical disorders while 19 stay at Ramla prison hospital permanently due to their serious injuries and diseases.

Israel denies Palestinian inmates are mistreated, and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the Barghouti-led protest was "prompted by internal Palestinian politics and therefore includes unreasonable demands".

According to Shakir, a mass hunger strike is an attempt by Palestinian prisoners to shed light on such practices that raise serious questions about Israel's policies under worldwide law.

Of the 6,500 Palestinian detainees, 62 are women and 300 are minors.

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