Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails launch mass hunger strike

A woman holds the portrait of a Palestinian prisoner during a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah to show support to Palestinians detained in Israeli jails after hundred of them launched a hunger strike

The newspaper was slammed by Israeli leaders and U.S. Jewish groups for its failure to mention Barghouti's terrorist activities and conviction for murder.

JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel will not negotiate with hundreds of Palestinian prisoners who launched a hunger strike to press for better conditions, a government minister said Tuesday, adding that the organizer of the protest has been placed in solitary confinement.

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

Erdan ordered the Israel Prison Service to do all they can to contain the strike within its walls and prevent any illegal communication between prisons and with other terrorists. The protest also comes before the 50th anniversary of the Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories, giving added significance.

Israel has denied suggestions that Palestinian prisoners have been left in poor conditions.

Qadoura Fares, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners' Club said about 6500 Palestinians are being held in 22 Israeli prisons.

As far as the Israeli government is concerned, there will be no talks with the approximately 1,187 Palestinian prisoners engaged in a hunger strike since Monday.

Barghouti has remained politically active behind bars, and is a popular figure among Palestinians who have tipped him among likely candidates to succeed 82-year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

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Israeli authorities have reportedly begun reprisals against hunger-striking prisoners, including with transfers, isolation and confiscation of personal belongings.

One of the largest demonstration took place in Ramallah, where thousands gathered in Yasser Arafat Square, raising flags emblazoned with the face of imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and Palestinian flags.

Protests were also held in Palestinian cities in connection with Prisoners Day, including one in Bethlehem that led to clashes with Israeli forces.

Rage-fueled comments were largely instigated by word on Barghouti heading the strike, and the American daily "The New York Times" publishing a detailed report authored by the Fatah activist.

A statement released by Hamas warned the Prison Service against harming the hunger strikers.

Arrested in 2002, he was later sentenced to 40 years in jail by an Israeli court after being convicted for directing lethal attacks on Israelis during the second intifada in the early 2000s.

Prisoners are demanding more contact with relatives, better access to medical treatment and an end to the Israeli practice of detention without trial.

The strike also comes at a hard time for the Palestinian Authority, whose leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is aging and unpopular.

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