Tuesday, 12 December, 2017

United Nations 'closely' monitoring Palestinian hunger strike, urges restraint amid clashes

Melinda Barton | 19 April, 2017, 07:22

The United Nations today said it was following closely a hunger strike by more than 1,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons and urged restraint following clashes with the strikers' supporters on the West Bank.

Issa Qaraqe, the head of prisoner affairs for the Palestinian Authority, said on Monday that about 1,300 prisoners were on hunger strike and the number could rise.

The strike is a political step, carefully planned and organized by Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah leader who is determined to demonstrate to all concerned his mastery, both in skill and stature, of Palestinian politics.

The strike coincides with Palestinian Prisoners Day, which is marked on April 17 every year.

A source from the ICRC said the worldwide organisation had been notified that visits for Palestinian prisoners would be forbidden until further notice in response to the hunger strike, which official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported today was being carried out by some 1,500 prisoners.

Some 500 are held under administrative detention, which allows for imprisonment without charge.

The protest has unsettled Israeli officials who also reacted furiously to an article penned by Barghouti justifying the strike in the New York Times.

The New York Times' public editor called out her own paper Tuesday for publishing an op-ed by Marwan Barghouti without disclosing the fact that Barghouti was convicted in 2004 of killing five Israelis in a terrorist attack.

Gilad Erdan said the prisoners were "terrorists and murderers".

"These are terrorists and incarcerated murderers who are getting exactly what the global law requires", he told Israel's Army Radio, adding that under the ministry's policy, "you can't negotiate with prisoners such as these".

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday called on the global community to "intervene quickly to save the lives" of the hundreds of Palestinian prisoners who earlier in the day launched a mass hunger strike to protest their conditions of imprisonment.

The strike also promises to put the Palestinian cause back on the regional and worldwide agenda, where it has taken a back seat over the past six years due to the Arab Spring and the internal fighting in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen, according to Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at al-Azhar University in Gaza. "We will not surrender to it".

Barghouti, who has been named as a possible successor to Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, called the strike "the most peaceful form of resistance available".

He was convicted of attacks that killed five people.

Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, saluted the "brave prisoners" on hunger strike.

Other Israeli leaders are calling for a more blood-soaked crackdown, calling on the state to execute numerous prisoners. Barghouthi refused to defend himself at his trial and did not recognise the court's legitimacy.

Abbas is due to meet US President Donald Trump in Washington for the first time in the coming weeks as the White House seeks a way forward with peace efforts.