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Minister: Hunger strike about isolation, not chicken

Oct. 9, 2011 5:36 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 10, 2011 6:35 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The main goal of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails is an end to solitary confinement policies, the Palestinian Authority prisoners' affairs minister said Sunday.

The use of isolation cells is the "strategic demand" of prisoners, who have refused food for 13 days, Issa Qaraqe said, accusing Israeli media of "incitement" for stating its aims were access to satellite TV or whole chickens.

Qaraqe, speaking at a solidarity tent for the hunger strikers in Abu Dis, said solitary confinement, as well as prevention of family visits, fines, and use of hand and feet cuffs, were the main demands of the movement.

Detainees said earlier Sunday that Israeli prison authorities had accepted some of their demands, including transmission of satellite television, provision of whole chickens, family visits without handcuffs, and visits between different sections of prisons.

Prison authorities are still refusing to end the practice of prisoner isolation, and have also refused to increase detainee allowances to more than 300 shekels.

The prison administration will hold a hearing to discuss the rest of the demands by detainees, prisoners said.

Israel's prison service said on Sunday more prisoners had joined the strike -- it counts 234 strikers -- and after returning six meals, prisoners have all food products and electrical equipment removed from their cells, Israeli news site Ynet reported.

Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners' Society, said all 200 PFLP inmates had been observing the strike since the start, while another 200 or so prisoners were joining the strike for three days per week.

Popular Front affiliated detainees launched the strike on Sept. 27 to protest harsh conditions, in particular solitary confinement policies under which the groups' leader Ahmad Saadat has been held in isolation for three years.

Qaraqe said detainees' health was deteriorating due to the hunger strike, and prison authorities were not providing necessary medical checks.

The prisoners' minister called for political and legal support to help the detainees, and held the Israeli government responsible for their lives.

Thousands of demonstrators staged rallies in the West Bank and Jerusalem and set up sit-in tents this week to support prisoners who are refusing food.

Tents were also erected in Cairo, Paris and Canada to support the strike, Qaraqe said.

Palestinian detainees say their conditions have deteriorated after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to toughen their conditions in June, in an effort to pressure Hamas to release a kidnapped Israeli solider.

Gilad Shalit was captured just outside the Gaza Strip in 2006 and Hamas is seeking the release of more than 1,000 prisoners in return for his freedom.

According to latest reports from the Palestinian Authority 6,000 Palestinians are being detained in Israeli prisons, including 219 in Administrative Detention who are held without charge.

AFP contributed to this report
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