Over 6000 Palestinians now held in Israeli prisons: NGOs

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Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails began a hunger strike, the Israel Prison Service announced.

They said that over 1,500 are expected to join the open-ended hunger strike against the Israeli prisons' services, calling for improving their daily living conditions in jail.

Clashes broke out at a similar rally in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

The strike was reportedly initiated by Marwan Barghouti, an influential member of Palestinian Fatah movement, convicted of murder and serving five life sentences.

On this year's Prisoners' Day, Israel holds approximately 6300 Palestinian political prisoners, 300 children and approximately 56 females (including 13 female children) as well as an estimated 500 Palestinians in administrative detention (including 2 children), held for indefinite periods without charge or trial.

Qadoura Fares, an advocate for prisoners' rights, says 6,500 Palestinians are now held by Israel.

Qadura Fares, leader of the non-government advocacy agency Palestinian Prisoners Club, told Haaretz the group will work to promote attention to the hunger strike in the next several days.

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Librati stated that prison officials will be updating numbers later in the day as some prisoners "said they would only observe a symbolic protest strike and then resume eating afterwards".

Prisoners' demands include installation of a public telephone in all prisons to allow communication with relatives, resuming bi-monthly family visits, allowing second-degree relatives to visit, increasing duration of the visits and allowing prisoners to take photographs with their families. Palestinian officials including Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip have voiced their support for the strike. He is a popular figure, with polls suggesting he could win the Palestinian presidency.

Qaraqe urged Palestinians to support the strike, and called on human rights organizations to press Israel on conditions in prisons.

Now 500 Palestinians are being held in this way, according to Mr Fares.

Palestinians consider brethren held in Israeli jails as national heroes.

The strike has been called for by prominent Palestinian prisoner and leader Marwan Barghouti, who is now serving a life sentence over his role in the second Palestinian intifada - or uprising.

Erdan said a field hospital would be erected next to one prison - an apparent move to pre-empt transfers to civilian medical facilities, which could draw wider media attention.