RAMALLAH - Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned on Tuesday that the death of any one of the hundreds of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israel would be a "disaster" and could trigger a backlash that might slip out of control.
"It is very dangerous," Abbas told Reuters on a day when the Red Cross urged Israel to transfer to hospital six detainees who it said were close to death after not eating for two months.
"If anybody dies today or tomorrow or after a week it would be a disaster and no one could control the situation," Abbas said in an interview at his office in Ramallah. "I told the Israelis and the Americans if they do not find a solution for this hunger strike immediately, they will be committing a crime."
Joining some who began fasting earlier, an estimated 1,600 Palestinian prisoners out of 4,800 launched a mass hunger strike on April 17 to protest against conditions in Israeli jails and to demand an end to solitary confinement and more family visits.
The prisoners include Islamists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well as members of Abbas's secular Fatah movement.
The fate of the hunger strikers has touched a raw nerve in the Palestinian territories with daily demonstrations in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip to support the protest.
The International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva called on Israel on Tuesday to transfer six prisoners who have forsworn food for around two months to hospital.
All six are in prison under Israel's long-standing policy of detaining people without charge whom it suspects of security offenses, including plotting attacks against Israeli targets. The six have been refusing food for between 47 and 71 days.
In a statement, the ICRC said that the six were in "imminent danger of dying", although it upheld their right to choose whether or not they wanted to receive treatment.
"We urge the detaining authorities to transfer all six detainees without delay to a suitable hospital so that their condition can be continuously monitored and so that they can receive specialized medical and nursing care," said Juan Pedro Schaerer, head of the ICRC delegation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
"Their main demands are for a resumption of family visits from Gaza and for an end to solitary confinement in Israeli places of detention," the ICRC said.