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Last Updated: Monday, 16 August, 2004, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
Israel turns up heat on prisoners
Palestinians held in Israeli prison
The prisoners say conditions are unnecessarily humiliating
Israel has launched a psychological war against hundreds of Palestinian inmates on hunger strike for better conditions.

Prison officers are setting up barbecues outside cells and have told guards to eat in front of prisoners.

The fast has entered its second day as about 1,600 prisoners press for an end to strip searches, increased family visits and access to public telephones.

Organisers said the remainder of 7,500 detainees would join the liquids-only protest by the end of the week.

But Israel's security minister has said they would not bow to pressure and the prisoners could starve "until death".

"They can strike for a day, a month, until death. We will ward off this strike and it will be as if it never happened," said Tzahi Hanegbi.

'Like animals'

Palestinians have held rallies in the West Bank and Gaza to support of the striking prisoners, and have called to hold a one-day solidarity fast on 18 August by the Palestinian Authority.

Yasser Arafat holds up picture of prominent Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti
Arafat has joined calls in support of prisoners
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, himself a virtual prisoner of Israel at his West Bank headquarters, hailed the hunger strikers as "heroes... for their steadfastness".

Viewed by their own people as symbols of resistance, Palestinian prisoners held by Israel are accused by their captors of continuing to orchestrate violence from within their cells.

A statement from the Palestinian Prisoners Society announced the start of the hunger strike, accusing Israel of "robbing us of all our rights, treading on our dignity and treating us like animals".

The Palestinians are presenting the strike as non-political. Their demands include:

  • guards to stop conducting strip searches

  • more frequent contact with families; organisers say 40% of inmates are currently denied any visits

  • improved sanitary conditions

  • access to public telephones

Preventative measures

Israeli prison officials have already begun monitoring prisoners' body weight and will consider force-feeding inmates who became critically emaciated, reports say.

The strike is being organised by the three main Palestinian factions - Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah.

One of the most well-known participants is Marwan Barghouti, who is currently serving five consecutive life sentences for murder.

As well as outdoor grills and the baking of extra bread and cakes in prison kitchens, the Israeli authorities have banned all family visits and restricted sales of sweets and cigarettes to prisoners.

Prisoners representatives said guards have confiscated salt that the inmates intended to use to stop themselves becoming dehydrated.

Hunger strikers were reported to be refusing to drink in protest at the strike-breaking measures.

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