Palestinian prisoners in Israel on hunger strike

Date: 06-21-05

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AFP) - Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel went on hunger strike to highlight their plight ahead of a summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.

The largest Palestinian detainees' rights group -- the Prisoners Club -- said practically all 8,000 Palestinian security detainees behind Israeli bars were following the order to refuse food.

"This strike is intended to remind Abu Mazen (Abbas) of the prisoners' cause and ask him to insist on a clear timetable for their release," said Issa Qaraqaeh, director of the Bethlehem-based Prisoners Club.

A spokesman for the Israeli prison services, Ian Domnitz, said hundreds of security detainees had refused breakfast but added that prisoners were eating food previously bought and stored in their cells.

Abbas has promised to raise the issue of prisoner releases with Sharon at their meeting in Jerusalem later Tuesday.

"This (the prisoners) is an issue of paramount importance and I hope to be able to obtain results during my meeting with Mr Sharon," Abbas told a prisoners' support group on Monday.

On Saturday, he told visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the release of prisoners held by Israel was of "supreme importance" to advancing Middle East peace efforts.

Although the Israeli government has freed 900 prisoners since Abbas and Sharon last met in February in Egypt, around 7,000 still remain behind bars.



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