More than 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners held in Israeli prisons have gone on hunger strike demanding better conditions.
The prisoners, who launched their action on Monday to coincide with Palestinian prisoner day, are demanding more family visits, an end to administrative detention where inmates are imprisoned without being brought to trial, improved medical services and greater access to educational materials.
The strike is being led by Marwan Barghouti, a leader of the Fatah movement who is seen as a potential successor to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
Writing in the New York Times, Mr Barghouti said the prisoners had no choice but to call a hunger strike having exhausted all other options.
“Decades of experience have proved that Israel’s inhumane system of colonial and military occupation aims to break the spirit of prisoners and the nation to which they belong.”
Of the more than 6,000 Palestinians held for security offences in Israeli prisons, 1,187 had joined the protest by Monday morning but more were expected to refuse food. Most were from Fatah and the left-wing Popular Front but some detainees affiliated with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement also refused food.
Almost every Palestinian family in the West Bank knows at least one security prisoner and the issue has always an emotive one on the Palestinian street.
Thousands joined solidarity marches in West Bank towns on Monday.
Mr Abbas called on the international community “to intervene quickly and save the lives of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners”. He warned of the worsening situation because of Israel’s “stubbornness and its refusal to comply with the just humanitarian demands of the prisoners”.
Israel's public security minister Gilad Erdan accused Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for his role in fatal militant attacks, of initiating the action as part of an internal Palestinian power struggle.
"The strike led by Barghouti is motivated by internal Palestinian politics and therefore includes unreasonable demands concerning the conditions in the prisons," he said. "I have instructed the prison service to act to contain the strike within the walls of the prisons and the Israel police to prepare and provide any help needed for any scenario that is likely to develop."
On Monday the striking prisoners were isolated from other detainees and Israel set up a field hospital outside the Ketziot prison for any hunger strikers who may require medical treatment.