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At least 70 prisoners who are being held in Palestinian Authority prisons in the West Bank began a hunger strike on Saturday to protest their continued incarceration.
The prisoners are all members of Islamic Jihad and Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades.
The prisoners, who are being held in Jericho, Nablus and Jenin, said they would refuse both food and medicine.
Some of the prisoners have been held in detention without trial for over two years, while others have not been released although they have completed their prison terms.
The families of the prisoners said they would launch a campaign in the coming days to force the PA to release their sons.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, whose secretary-general, Ahmed Sa'adat, is being held in the Jericho prison, did not join the hunger strike. Sa'adat and five other PFLP members were accused of involvement in the assassination of tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi. Sa'dat has been in prison for three years although he was never put on trial.
A statement issued by the prisoners said they would pursue the hunger strike to the end. "We are determined to continue with the hunger strike until the PA agrees to release all the prisoners," it said.
The timing of the hunger strike is believed to be linked to the upcoming parliamentary elections in the PA, scheduled for January 25. Sources in Ramallah said the prisoners were seeking to exploit the elections to embarrass PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his ruling Fatah party on the eve of the vote.
The Independent Palestine List, which is headed by prominent political activist Mustafa Barghouti, urged the PA to release all "political" prisoners from its jails. "This is a violation of democracy and national unity," the list said, calling on the PA not to succumb to "external" pressure.
It also said that it was "inconceivable to detain Palestinian strugglers at a time when they are being targeted by Israel."
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