Palestinian demonstrators hurl stones at Israeli soldiers on Wednesday… (Alaa Badarneh / EPA )
RAMALLAH, West Bank –- Amid increasingly volatile protests around the West Bank, Palestinian and international leaders are pressuring Israel to release four Palestinian prisoners who have been on hunger strikes for several months in protest against their detention.
Advocates for the men expressed concern for their lives and Palestinian Authority officials warned of greater unrest if any of them were to die in custody.
Israel has insisted that the four prisoners are not in imminent danger and were legitimately arrested for either violating the terms of their release in a 2011 prisoner swap for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit or for plotting acts against Israel.
“If necessary, they will be removed to a hospital, but for now they are in prison,’’ said Israeli prison spokeswoman Sivan Weizman.
On Wednesday, Israel's Supreme Court declined to intervene on behalf of one of the prisoners, Ayman Sharawna.
The four have been on hunger strikes for varying periods, and not continuously. The longest of the strikes, by Samer Issawi, hit 212 days on Wednesday.
Over the past week, demonstrations over the issue have been held in Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem. Though most of the protests have been peaceful, clashes with Israeli soldiers occurred at a military camp in the Ramallah area, where protesters burned tires and threw rocks at Israeli soldiers, who responded with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. Minor injuries were reported.
Khader Adnan, an activist and former prisoner who was freed last year after a 66-day hunger strike, said the frustration among Palestinians is rising.
“There are signs of an intifada," Adnan said at a prisoners’ solidarity tent in Ramallah on Wednesday, where he launched another hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners. “The street is boiling and it may one day explode.”
Palestinian Minister of Prisoners Issa Qaraqi said: “No one can predict the street reaction if any of the prisoners dies.”
Issawi, from Jerusalem, and Sharawna, from the Hebron area, were arrested shortly after their release in the Shalit swap. The other two strikers, Jafar Izzedin and Tareq Qadan, both from the north of the West Bank, were arrested in October. They are being held under administrative detention, a practice by which Israel holds detainees without revealing the evidence and charges against them.
Among those expressing concern for the situation in recent days were United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who urged Israel to either release the prisoners or put them on trial.
Despite some recent prisoner releases and reforms, Israel holds about 4,500 Palestinians, mostly on charges of terrorism or crimes against Israelis.
Issawi was brought in a wheelchair to a Jerusalem court on Tuesday in a bid to win his release on bail, arguing that his re-arrest after his release was not legal. The court rejected the appeal and ordered him held until his next trial date, which was not set.