Around 1,500 Palestinian political prisoners jailed in Israel have gone on an indefinite hunger strike on Monday (17 April) to demand basic rights at their facilities. Israeli officials on the other hand alleged that the protesters were being led Marwan Barghouti for ulterior political motives.
A statement released by Israel's Prison Service said the inmates refused food intake until the matter is resolved. Although the campaign is led by Barghouti, a senior Fatah figure – who has been jailed since 2004 – prisoners belonging to other groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad are supporting the strike. Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip have also extend their support to its rival political group Fatah.
Barghouti is widely touted to be the successor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli officials hinted that the protest could be aimed at catapulting him in the Palestinian political agenda.
It is estimated there are about 6,500 Palestinian political prisoners held in captivity in Israel and their numbers have sharply grown over the past 18 months. The strike began at Hadarim prison, where Barghouti is currently held.
Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan held a meeting with prison authorities, police, intelligence agencies and security forces on Sunday (16 April) to address the situation. More prisoners are expected to join the strike.
"I have instructed the prison service to act in any way to contain the strike within the walls of the prisons and the Israel Police to prepare and provide any help needed to the prison service for any scenario that is likely to develop," said Erdan following the discussions.
The strike coincides with Palestinian Prisoners Day, which is usually marked on 17 April. Officially, the inmates are demanding that Israeli authorities allow more visits from family members and access to telephones.
"Even though it is one of the most dangerous and difficult decisions, they [inmates] are only making this choice because conditions [inside the prisons] have reached a new low," Amina al-Taweel, spokesperson for the Hebron-based Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies, told Al Jazeera.