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Closer medical watch of tens of hunger-striking Palestinians

Posted May 17

— Several dozen hunger-striking Palestinians have been transferred from their cells to special wings in Israeli prisons for additional medical supervision, a spokesman for the Israel Prison Service said Wednesday.

After 31 days, 843 prisoners are still on a hunger strike, said the spokesman, Assaf Librati.

The prisoners, jailed for offenses linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, seek better conditions, including more family visits. Israel refuses to negotiate.

Librati refused to provide details about strike organizer Marwan Barghouti, the best-known prisoner, who is considered a possible future Palestinian leader.

Earlier this week, Barghouti's lawyer said after a prison visit that his client would soon refuse water. It remains unclear if Barghouti, who has been held in isolation since the April 17 start of the strike, has stopped drinking.

Librati said Barghouti, a leader in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, remains in his cell.

The spokesman said that since last week, several dozen hunger strikers have been transferred to special prison wings with medical staff — a setup he said is a step between a regular cell and an Israeli hospital.

"It means very basic care, and if a doctor feels (a prisoner) should go to the hospital, it's done immediately, in an ambulance," said Librati. He said two prisoners have been hospitalized.

Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank staged protests against what they perceive as indifference by the international community toward the hunger strikers.

On Wednesday, dozens of activists and relatives of prisoners blocked the entrance to a U.N. compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah for two hours.

"We came here to deliver a message that the U.N. needs to play its role in protecting our sons who are dying in Israeli jails," said Majdi Ziadeh, the father of a prisoner.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which visits the hunger strikers, has also been criticized by Palestinians, who feel frustrated by the organization's refusal to discuss the issue in public.

The Red Cross closed its office in Ramallah on Tuesday evening after an angry crowd forced its way in. "These are unacceptable actions and should stop immediately," the ICRC said in a statement.

Israel holds about 6,500 so-called security prisoners — Palestinians jailed for offenses ranging from stone-throwing and membership in organizations outlawed by Israel to attacks that killed or wounded Israelis. Several hundred Palestinians are being held without charges or trial, in so-called administrative detention.

Barghouti, 58, is serving five life terms after an Israeli court convicted him of directing attacks that killed five people during a Palestinian uprising. Barghouti, imprisoned since 2002, has refused to recognize the court's jurisdiction and did not mount a defense.

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Associated Press writer Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.

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