The Palestinian premier has cancelled a meeting with his Israeli counterpart on a politically charged day when more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners started a hunger strike to protest conditions in Israeli jails.
The talks between Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu would have constituted the highest-level meeting between the two sides since September 2010. Instead Netanyahu was left to meet with other Palestinian officials, and a Palestinian delegation delivered a letter from Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas detailing his grievances over the faltering Israel-Palestine peace process.
"This evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with representatives of the Palestinian side who handed him a letter from President Abbas," Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
"Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to reaching peace," it added.
"Within two weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will send a letter to President Abbas," it stated, concluding: "The two sides hope that this exchange of letters will help find the way to advance peace."
A politically charged day for Palestine
Also on Tuesday, at least 1,200 Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons started a hunger strike in protest against the state of Israel's jails.
"Around 2,300 security prisoners said they were refusing their daily meals, and around 1,200 prisoners said they were starting a hunger strike," said Israel Prison Service spokesperson Sivan Weizman, adding: "We have coped with hunger strikes in the past and we are prepared to do so again now."
Thousands of Palestinians also took to the streets to demonstrate in Gaza and the West Bank Tuesday, holding up pictures of incarcerated relatives to mark Palestinian Prisoners' Day.
In Gaza City, thousands congregated outside the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), waving the flags representing Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) factions. All of these groups have members of their armed wings and some politicians imprisoned in Israel.
Hundreds also participated in demonstrations in Ramallah. Around 150 protesters then advanced to an Israeli military roadblock outside the central West Bank, where they threw stones and came to blows with Israeli soldiers, who used "skunk," a crowd control weapon that releases strongly-smelling gas, and water cannons, according to a military spokesperson in Tel Aviv.
Around 4,610 Palestinians are currently incarcerated in Israel on security-related charges, according to Addammeer, a Ramallah-based group that provides the prisoners with support.
sej/ncy (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)