Palestinian leaders on Wednesday denounced Israel's refusal to negotiate with Palestinians on hunger strike in Israeli jails, warning of a "new intifada" if any of them die. Some 1,500 Palestinian prisoners have joined the hunger strike that began Monday, according to Issa Qaraqe, head of detainees' affairs for the Palestinian Authority. Israel's prison service declined to comment on the number.
The hunger strike has been led by Palestinian arch-terrorist Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for his role in the murder of hundreds of Israelis during the second intifada. Barghouti headed the Tanzim, the military arm of the Fatah organization headed by Yassir Arafat and was an outspoken supporter of terror attacks and suicide attacks against Israelis.
The Palestinian hunger strikers have made a range of demands, from better medical care to
access to telephones. Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently being detained by Israel for their role in terror activities. Around 500 are held under administrative detention, which allows for imprisonment without charge. Palestinian prisoners have mounted repeated hunger strikes, but rarely on such a scale.
Qaraqe said the strike followed months of attempts at negotiations with Israeli authorities. "If their demands are not met, more prisoners will join the strike," he threatened."We have asked the international community and the UN to intervene immediately." He added that if prisoners die, "that could lead to a new intifada."
Israeli officials have vowed not to negotiate with the hunger strikers, with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Tuesday calling them "terrorists and incarcerated murderers." Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said that authorities "would not hesitate to implement the law which authorizes the force-feeding of detainees". The controversial law passed in 2015 concerns hunger strikers whose life is deemed in danger.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he wanted to take the approach of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who publicly refused to accede to the demands of IRA hunger strikers in 1981, 10 of whom died.