April 17 (UPI) -- Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails began a hunger strike, the Israel Prison Service announced.
The hunger strike began Sunday with about 700 participants and is led by imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who suggest is a potential successor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. It has the backing of Hamas leaders in Gaza, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and the Palestinian National Council. The strike is expected to expand to 2,000 prisoners Monday, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
About 5,000 Palestinians are in Israeli prisons, a number which has grown in the past 18 months after a wave of violence. A list of prisoner grievances, drafted two weeks ago, demands the end of solitary confinement and detention without trial. It also asks for reinstatement of access to pay telephones while in jail and more frequent family visits.
Qadura Fares, leader of the non-government advocacy agency Palestinian Prisoners Club, told Haaretz the group will work to promote attention to the hunger strike in the next several days. He added the action could have been avoided had Israel entered into discussions with prisoners and not ignored the situation.
Knesset member Yousef Jabareen of the leftist Joint List Party called on the Israeli government to agree to the prisoners' demands, saying, "The prisoners agree to have their calls monitored by the Prison Service, so that the alleged security reasons given by the Prison Service and the Shin Bet against installing telephones are void."
"Israel is holding prisoners within its territory, breaching the rules of the Fourth Geneva Convention. One of the immediate circumstances of this violation is a perpetual difficulty with family visits to the prison. The delivery of mail is also limited and hardly takes place. Keeping in touch with one's family is an essential matter for every person, free or jailed, and phone calls are supposed to fill this deficiency."
The issue of visitation rights is a particular concern for the prisoners, Britain's the Guardian said. Prison rules say inmates can receive family visitors once every two weeks; in reality, visitors from occupied Palestinian territories are first required to apply for permits to enter Israel, and those permits are often denied.