At least 250 prisoners held by Israel start a hunger strike to protest their relocation to isolated cells, officials say.
At least 250 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel have begun a hunger strike to protest their relocation to isolated cells, officials said.
The hunger strike, led by the militant Islamic Jihad (PIJ) group, comes amid heightened tensions in Israeli detention facilities following the escape of six prisoners from a high-security prison last month.
All six were recaptured within a couple of weeks, but the escape embarrassed Israeli authorities and was hailed as a stroke of defiance by Palestinians.
Israel is currently holding more than 4,600 Palestinians in connection with the Mideast conflict.
The prisoners range from senior fighters convicted of deadly attacks against Israelis to political activists who took part in demonstrations and teenagers detained for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.
The prisoners organise themselves by political faction and have secured concessions over the years through hunger strikes and other collective action.
READ MORE: Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails set to hold hunger strike
Isolation of prisoners
The Palestinian Prisoners Club, which represents former and current prisoners, said the latest strike is to protest the separation of Islamic Jihad prisoners into designated cells, isolating them from most other members of the group.
Qadura Fares, the head of the organisation, said at least 250 prisoners in multiple facilities would take part in the strike, and that 100 of them would begin refusing water after one week.
He called for protests in support of the prisoners and said other Palestinian factions — including President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement — would also participate in the hunger strike.
Palestinian prisoner Ghadanfar Abu Atwan has been on hunger strike since May 5, in protest of his administrative detention in Israel pic.twitter.com/funULSjwvD— TRT World (@trtworld) June 26, 2021
Israel not aware of mass hunger strike
Israel's prison service said it was unaware of any mass hunger strike.
It said it has not isolated the prisoners, but instead has mixed them with the general population. It said the group was not happy with the move and acknowledged there has been "tension."
Five of the six escapees were Islamic Jihad members, and the group was the driving force behind rioting that broke out in some prisons as Israel tightened security and relocated prisoners to prevent other breakouts.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have passed through a military justice system designed for what Israel portrays as a temporary occupation, now into its sixth decade.
Nearly every Palestinian family has a relative who has spent time in an Israeli prison, and the Palestinians consider all prisoners to be heroes of their national cause.
Israel says it only locks up those who threaten its security and that Palestinians are given due process in its military courts. The Palestinians and many rights groups say the trials are inherently unfair.
Most Palestinian prisoners are from the occupied West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and which the Palestinians want to form the main part of their future state. Israeli illegal settlers in the West Bank have full citizenship and are subject to civilian courts.