Approximately 1 100 prisoners in different facilities had declared their intention to strike, said Israel Prison Service spokeswoman Hana Herbst, adding that the service was taking disciplinary measures. Led by jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, the strike will see Palestinian prisoners from across the political spectrum participate from within six prisons inside Israel.

Marwan Barghouti, a high-profile prisoner who enjoys broad support among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, called for the "Freedom and Dignity" strike.

Top Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi called on the global community to bring an end to the "inhumane" treatment of Palestinian prisoners, which she said was in violation of the Geneva Convention.

The Prisoners' Club said a main demand was for Israel to halt detention without trial for some 500 Palestinians now being held, and for an end to solitary confinement.

Israel now houses over 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in numerous jails across the country, in which an estimated 1,500 could potentially participate in later stages. Prison rules say inmates can receive family visitors once every two weeks; in reality, visitors from occupied Palestinian territories are first required to apply for permits to enter Israel, and those permits are often denied.

The striking prisoners are demanding access to phones, extended visiting rights and better medical service.

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Some 6,500 Palestinians are now detained by Israel for a range of offences and alleged crimes. Around 1,500 of the prisoners began on Monday an open-ended strike.

This hunger strike is the largest Palestinian prisoners have ever launched, said Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian politician and Vice President of Birzeit University. Widely considered the top contender to succeed Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Barghouti is serving five life terms for the murder of Israelis in a 2000-2005 uprising.

"This massive strike sends a strong message to the Israelis, after 50 years of occupation, suppression and oppression, that the prisoners. will lead their people from behind bars", she said.

The Israel Prison Service still practices the solitary confinement policy against the prisoners and carries out arbitrary searches late at night which are usually accompanied by beatings, insults, and confiscation of personal objects.

This hunger strike forms an integral part of the Palestinian strategy of nonviolent resistance.

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