A leader of the Islamist Hamas movement on Friday warned Israel there would be consequences if any of the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike dies in jail.
“You must realize that the hunger strike isn’t a party, and we could be surprised by the death of some of them,” Khalil al-Haya said at a solidarity tent for the strikers in the center of Gaza City.
“If that happens, you can expect both the expected and the unexpected from us,” he said.
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Two Palestinians, Bilal Diab, 34, and 27-year-old Thaer Halahla, have been on hunger strike for 66 days.
The two have been joined on hunger strike by at least 1,550 Palestinian prisoners, the bulk of whom began refusing food on April 17.
“We are summoned to ready armies to free our prisoners... We have the means to mobilize and for combat,” Haya said.
The radical Islamic Jihad movement has threatened to no longer observe a truce with Israel if one of the hunger-strikers dies.
Rallies in solidarity with the prisoners were staged on Friday across the Palestinian territories, with around 2,000 gathering in Ramallah in the West Bank.
The hunger-strikers are calling for improved prison conditions, including increased access to lawyers and family visits, an end to solitary confinement and an end to administrative detention.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has appointed his chief negotiator Saeb Erekat to head the Palestinian Authority's efforts to resolve the crisis diplomatically.
Al-Haya called on Abbas to discuss the issue with international elements in order to "expose Israel's crimes."
He said: "Why is it that the international community remains silent on issues related to the Palestinian people? Where is (UN Secretary-General) Ban Ki-moon, who has never met any of the Palestinian prisoners' relatives but met Gilad Shalit's father on a number of occasions?"
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh also addressed the issue, saying his government was encouraging Arab and international diplomats to pressure Israel into releasing the prisoners and accepting their "just demands."
Haniyeh said he had recently sent Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan a letter written by the leaders of the Palestinian prisoners. The prisoners apparently asked for Turkey's assistance in applying pressure on Israel.
Meanwhile, the Arab League is expected to meet next week to discuss the prisoners issue following a request by the Palestinian representative to the regional organization. Haniyeh said he hoped the Arab League's decisions won't amount to "just ink on paper."
Issa Qaraqe, the Palestinian minister for prisoners' affairs, said Friday that a special committee set up by the Israel Prison Service has agreed to improve the inmates' conditions, but it has yet to provide its answer regarding family visits from Gaza and the prisoners' demand to have the option to study while incarcerated.
As for the solitary confinement issue, Qaraqe said the committee decided that another committee will convene once a month to discuss the cases of four prisoners and consider the possibility of releasing them from solitary confinement.
The minister said the prisoners' leaders are reviewing the committee's response.
Arab-Israeli Knesset members also warned of the strike's possible ramifications. "The prisoner strike will ignite a third intifada (uprising)," MK Jamal Zahalka (National Democratic Assembly) said during a rally in Kfar Kana on Friday.
"This is the calm before the storm, but if one of the prisoners dies, it will trigger a revolt within Israel's prisons and a third intifada," he said. "Shalit returned, so all the rights the prisoners had in the past must be reinstated."
You can contact Elior Levy, Ynet's Palestinian Affairs Correspondent, at: firstname.lastname@example.org