Palestinian militants held in Israeli prisons have declared an open- ended hunger strike in response to tightened restrictions imposed by Israel following last week’s escape of six prisoners from the maximum security Gilboa prison in northern Israel.
Four of the six prisoners were caught in northern Israel at the weekend and a massive search continues for the other two.
In response to the escape, Israel transferred hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners to other jails, put others in solitary confinement , restricted privileges including visiting rights and ended the system whereby prisoners from the same militant faction were kept together.
Searches of cells have increased along with the number of guards in each wing and security prisoners are now confined to cells throughout the day.
Six alleged militants are already on hunger strike, protesting at their administrative detention, Israel’s policy for a limited number of suspects of detention without trial.
A total 1,380 prisoners in several prisons will go on hunger strike on Friday in the initial stage of the protest and more inmates are set to join the protest next week. The prisoners are demanding that Israel cancel all the new measures and restore the status quo that existed before the Gilboa breakout.
Prisoners have also threatened to target and attack wardens and security officials in the Gilboa jail, the prisoner leadership said, citing what was termed the “violent repression against detainees” as justification.
“The situation is very bad in the prisons, that’s why they’re going on hunger strike,” said Qadri Abu Bakr, head of the Palestinian Authority’s commission for prisoners.
The more than 4,000 Palestinian militants incarcerated in Israeli prisons are held in great esteem in the West Bank and Gaza and the six who escaped were regarded as heroes.
Since the prison breakout there has been a marked rise in violent incidents in the West Bank and east Jerusalem and the Islamic Jihad fired rockets from Gaza towards southern Israel on three consecutive nights, prompting retaliatory Israeli air strikes.
On Monday two Israelis were stabbed and wounded close to Jerusalem’s central bus station, allegedly by a Palestinian assailant, and another attempted stabbing was thwarted at a West Bank hitching stop.
Right-wing opposition parliamentarians criticised prime minister Naftali Bennett for lifting the closure on the West Bank that was in place after the prison escape.
Israel is worried that if any harm comes to the two escapees who remain at large or any of the hunger strikers a wider conflagration may result.
Police investigating the prison escape revealed on Tuesday that 10 other inmates knew about the planned jailbreak and warnings that large amounts of sand discovered in the prison sewage system were ignored by prison authorities.