By Eyad Mughrabi
The Associated Press
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Palestinians blocked roads and held marches across the West Bank on Monday to protest the fate of thousands of their countrymen held in Israeli jails and demand the release of four detainees on hunger strike.
The hunger strikers include Samer Issawi, 35, whose health has severely deteriorated after staging an on-again, off-again strike for more than 200 days. The men were all in stable condition, said a spokeswoman for Israel’s prison authority, Sivan Weizman.
Israel is holding some 4,500 Palestinians for charges ranging from throwing stones to undertaking deadly militant attacks. Their incarceration is a sensitive issue for Palestinians, who see them as heroes of their struggle for liberation from the Jewish State.
Hundreds of men and women in the southern town of Hebron brandished yellow, red, black-and-white flags of different Palestinian factions. Other demonstrators held up photographs of their loved ones behind bars.
“Freedom for the prisoners!” they chanted.
Near the biblical city of Bethlehem, Israeli forces chased protesters who blocked a major West Bank road. Soldiers chased them with sticks and hurled tear gas and stun grenades between jammed cars as Palestinians blocked traffic, waving their national black-green-red-and-white flag and shouting support for the prisoners.
There were no reports of injuries. A military spokeswoman said forces responded after Palestinians hurled rocks at soldiers.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, about 50 activists demonstrated at a U.N. office. Another demonstration was staged in the northern city of Nablus.
Of the four hunger striking prisoners, Issawi has refused food for the large part of some 200 days. He was hospitalized over the weekend after he lost consciousness, but his condition improved after receiving an IV drip containing vitamins and minerals, a lawyer for the men, Jawad Boulous said.
Another prisoner, Ayman Sharawneh, refused food for 70 days. He halted his strike for a month and resumed it two weeks ago, Weizman said. The other two men have refused food since they were incarcerated almost three months ago, she said.
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