Clashes at protest to support Palestinian hunger strikers
ABBAS MOMANI (AFP)
Several dozen Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli forces Thursday outside a prison where detainees are on a hunger strike, while a group of Israeli hardliners nearby taunted prisoners by barbecuing.
Some 1,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have joined a hunger strike against conditions that began Monday, according to the Palestinian Authority's detainees' affairs department.
The hunger strike has been led by prominent prisoner and popular Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences over his role in the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Security forces fired tear gas, sound grenades and rubber bullets at the crowd of Palestinians who threw stones and protested in support of the detainees outside Israel's Ofer prison north of Jerusalem in the West Bank.
It was not immediately clear if anyone was injured in the clashes.
Palestinian Prisoners Club head Qadura Fares told AFP at the protest that Israel would allow all the strikers, including Barghouti, access to lawyers, in a reversal of its previous position.
Access to lawyers had been prevented following the start of the strike, Palestinian officials said, with Barghouti moved to solitary confinement.
The Israel Prisons Service said it was acting under its rules, without elaborating further.
A small number of Israeli hardliners held a barbecue nearby on the opposite side of a checkpoint, saying they hoped the smell would make prisoners' abstention harder.
Around a dozen Israelis grilled chicken and other kinds of meat, with a number of Israeli soldiers joining them to eat.
"At this moment (the hunger strikers) will smell the food's scent and maybe later in the evening they will see it on television," event organizer Ofer Sofer told AFP in front of two barbecue pits.
"It is a bunch of terrorists that are threatening us with hunger strike. We are happy that they are on strike. Let them have this strike as long as they want."
They called for tough punishments for the protesting Palestinians, including worsening their conditions.
The prisoners from various Palestinian political factions -- including Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and some members of the Islamist group Hamas -- have made demands including the installation of public telephones and televisions in prison wards, the resumption of academic studies and bimonthly visitations for inmates, and re-location to facilities in the Palestinian territories.
They are also calling for an end to solitary confinement and Israel's controversial administrative detention policy, which allows renewable six-month periods of detention without trial.
Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, however, has said that the strike was motivated by internal Palestinian politics rather than a complaint on prison conditions, and called the demands "unreasonable".
Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently detained by Israel for a range of offenses and alleged crimes. Around 500 are held under administrative detention.
Palestinian prisoners have mounted repeated hunger strikes, but rarely on such a scale. The last large-scale hunger strike was in February 2013, when 3,000 Palestinians refused to eat for one day to protest against the death of a fellow detainee.
(Staff with AFP)
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