13 Palestinians reported wounded by Israeli forces over mass hunger strike
ABBAS MOMANI (AFP)
Thirteen Palestinians were reportedly wounded amid clashes as large demonstrations took place across the West Bank on Monday, following the start of an indefinite hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners Sunday night.
Reports said some 1,000 masked Palestinians threw stones near the city of Bethlehem, while another 1,500 Palestinians rallied in Ramallah in solidarity with the so-called "Freedom and Dignity" strike announced Sunday coinciding with "Palestinian Prisoners' Day," an annual event held in solidarity with some 6,000 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.
Israeli security forces reportedly used live fire to break up the demonstrations taking place outside the Ofer Prison near Ramallah, wounding at least five, reported Times of Israel. Another seven protesters were injured during the clashes.
Israel's Channel 10 reported that a total of 11 protesters were wounded, including the five by live fire, according to Times of Israel.
Israeli soldiers also reportedly fired rubber bullets at a crowd in Bethlehem, wounding an additional two Palestinian protesters, reported Channel 2, who added that their condition was currently unclear.
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. The Palestinian Prisoners Club put the number at 1,500.
The Israel Prison Service (IPS) said that 1,187 prisoners were refusing food as of Monday.
Hunger striking 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, said that the strike was motivated by internal Palestinian politics rather than a complaint on prison conditions, and called the demands "unreasonable".
The Public Security Ministry said that the IPS would not conduct negotiations with the prisoners, in accordance with prison policy, and that all prisoners participating in a hunger strike will receive immediate disciplinary measures.
Erdan has ordered intervention units to be put on standby and that a field hospital be set up outside one prison to avoid having to take sick prisoners to civilian hospitals, Israeli public radio reported Monday.
Hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners occur regularly, but rarely on such a large scale. Palestinian officials including Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip have voiced their support for the strike.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's office called on Israel to respond to the prisoners' demands for "freedom and dignity."
Abbas called on the international community "to intervene quickly and save the lives of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners," warning of a deteriorating situation as a result of Israel's "stubbornness and its refusal to comply with the just humanitarian demands of the prisoners."
Of the some 6,500 Palestinian detainees held by Israel, 62 are women and 300 are minors. Some 500 are held under administrative detention.
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 agencies)
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