- More than a thousand Palestinian prisoners launch hunger strikes
- Prisoners demand end to solitary confinement, administrative detention
Jerusalem (CNN)More than a thousand Palestinians in Israeli prisons launched a hunger strike Monday, demanding better living and medical conditions for approximately 6,500 prisoners.
Some 1,600 prisoners are taking part, Palestinian Authority Prisoners' Affairs Minister Issa Qaraqe said. More prisoners may join the hunger strike, which was planned to coincide with Palestinian Prisoners' Day, Qaraqe said.
Qaraqe urged Palestinians to support the strike and called on human rights organizations to press Israel about conditions in prisons.
The hunger strike is a way of "bringing prisoners closer to their basic rights and demands and preventing the occupation from harming the dignity of the Palestinian prisoners," he said in a statement.
Marwan Barghouti, a high-profile prisoner who enjoys broad support among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, called for the "Freedom and Dignity" strike. Many Palestinians see Barghouti as a potential future leader of the Palestinian Authority, despite his prison sentence.
Palestinian leaders, including Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Palestinian Liberation Organization Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi, have backed the strike.
Official: Largest Palestinian prisoner hunger strike ever
The hunger strikers' long list of demands includes an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention, a policy under which Israel holds prisoners without charge or trial.
Some 740 Palestinians are held in administrative detention, Qaraqe said. Prisoners are also demanding better medical care and extended visits with family.
This hunger strike is the largest Palestinian prisoners have ever launched, said Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian politician and former vice president of Birzeit University. Palestinians have often resorted to hunger strikes, mostly to target administrative detentions.
In a letter penned by Barghouti and read Saturday by his wife, Fadwa, Barghouti accused Israel of detaining "thousands of Palestinians every year in a flagrant violation of international treaties and conventions."
He called Israel's military courts in the West Bank an "accomplice in the occupation's crimes through detentions, unjust court sentences, and torture."
A former leader of the Tanzim brigade -- the militant wing of the Fatah political party -- Barghouti was convicted in 2004 of five counts of murder, including orchestrating attacks against Israelis. He is serving multiple life sentences.
Despite -- or perhaps because of -- his prison sentence,