Protesters at a rally on Monday in the West Bank city of Ramallah showed their support for Palestinians detained in Israeli jails. (Abbas Momani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

More than a thousand Palestinians in Israeli prisons took part in a hunger strike on Monday, demanding better conditions in a protest that was unusual for its large size and for the fact that it was led by Marwan Barghouti, the most prominent detainee and a figure often seen as a future Palestinian leader.

It was unclear whether the strike could be sustained to the point of forcing concessions from the Israeli authorities, but experts said it nonetheless had the potential to stir passions among Palestinians.

“Israel is taking it seriously simply because of the possible consequences,” said Ghassan Khatib, a professor at Birzeit University and a former Palestinian official. “The issue of prisoners is very emotional.”

The strike also comes at a difficult time for the Palestinian Authority, whose leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is aging and unpopular; potential rivals are increasingly showing an interest in succeeding him.

Polls suggest that Mr. Barghouti, 57, is the most popular choice to replace Mr. Abbas, even though he is serving five life sentences after he was convicted of being a leader of the second intifada and of directing attacks that led to the killings of Israelis.

Starting on Sunday, many of the more than 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons declared that they were on a hunger strike, which prompted demonstrations of support on Monday in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority’s de facto capital, and elsewhere in the West Bank.

The prisoners’ demands include more family visits, an end to solitary confinement, better health care and greater access to education. Qadura Fares, director of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, a nongovernmental organization, said the prisoners would not end the hunger strike until their demands had been met.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Ian Fisher

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