RAMALLAH: Some 3,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails on Wednesday refused breakfast as part of a one-day hunger strike to mark Prisoners’ Day, an Israeli prison official said.
Palestinians across the territories are attending marches and rallies as a show of solidarity with prisoners from the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza held in Israeli facilities, whose numbers according to Israeli rights group B’Tselem reach 4,713.
In the West Bank, around 600 relatives of prisoners gathered for a sit-in in the rain at Arafat Square in central Ramallah after which some of them were planning to march towards the nearby military prison at Ofer.
Another rally was being held in the northern city of Nablus.
Meanwhile in Gaza, hundreds of people were taking part in a march from central Gaza City to the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross, an AFP correspondent said.
Another sit-in was to take place at Damascus Gate in east Jerusalem in the evening, officials said.
Events to mark Prisoners’ Day began on Tuesday when youngsters in Gaza City released thousands of balloons into the air, each bearing the name of a prisoner, while there were also solidarity gatherings in Rafah in the south.
During the evening, demonstrators gathered in a village near the southern city of Hebron lit a “freedom torch” in front of the home of Arafat Jaradat, a prisoner who died in Israeli custody last month after several days of interrogation, sparking Palestinian Allegations of torture.
“It was a symbolic event to deliver a clear message, firstly to the Israeli side and secondly to the international community, that it is intolerable for us to continue receiving our prisoners as corpses,” Amjad Al Najjar, head of the Hebron branch of the Prisoners’ Club, told Voice of Palestine radio.
Also during the evening, there were candle-lighting ceremonies in Gaza City as well as in Hebron, AFP correspondents said.
Of the Palestinians currently detained, some 169 are being held under administrative detention orders, whereby they are held without charge for renewable six-month periods, according to the B’Tselem human rights group.
Last year’s Prisoners’ Day was symbolic because it was the day when Israel released Khader Adnan, an Islamic Jihad inmate who went on hunger strike for a record 66 days in protest at being held without charge.
Palestinian and Israeli officials, meanwhile, were seeking a compromise to end the hunger strike of a Palestinian prisoner whose on-off fast has lasted more than 250 days and stoked weeks of street protests.
Samer Al Issawi, a 32-year-old from an Arab suburb of Jerusalem, is receiving some nutrients via an intravenous drip but refusing food.
His lawyer says his low heart rate means he could die at any time.
Israel has asked Issawi to stop his fast in exchange for commuting his decades-long sentence to one year behind bars, a Palestinian official told Reuters on Wednesday.
Issawi said he would accept only if the year-long term were backdated to the date of his arrest last July, according to Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian prisoner organisation.
“We don’t want to see this man commit suicide,” an Israeli official told Reuters.
“There are elements on the Palestinian side who are eager to exploit a tragedy.”
Nine prisoners from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Leftist faction to which Issawi belongs, announced on Wednesday an open-ended fast until he is freed.
Two Palestinian prisoners died in Israeli jails this year, raising the total number of Palestinians to have died in Israeli prison since 1948 to 207, a Palestinian official said.
Israel convicted Issawi of opening fire on an Israeli bus in 2002, but released him in 2011 along with over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for an Israeli soldier held hostage by the Hamas group in Gaza.
He was re-arrested last July after Israel said he violated the terms of his release by crossing from his native East Jerusalem to the West Bank, both majority-Palestinian areas, and ordered him to stay in jail until 2029 - his original sentence.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is to visit Turkey at the weekend for talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a Palestinian official said on Wednesday.
He will also meet President Abdullah Gul and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during the Saturday-Sunday trip, the official told AFP.
On Sunday, Erdogan announced his intention to visit the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip next month, after a trip to the United States.
Abbas’s West Bank-based nationalist Fatah movement, a long-time rival to the Islamist Hamas, has criticised Erdogan’s Gaza trip as fostering intra-Palestinian divisions.
“Any official, Arab, Muslim or foreign, who visits Gaza without reference to the legitimate Palestinian leadership is blessing and consolidating the division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” Fatah official Azzam Al Ahmed told the official Voice of Palestine radio on Monday.