Shops were shuttered in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Sunday in solidarity with nearly 300 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike against Israeli detention without trial.
Also on Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet made changes in a law that could block amnesty for Palestinians imprisoned for murdering Israelis.
Black-and-white flags bearing slogans such as “Freedom for Prisoners” and “Chains must be broken” flew in the streets of Ramallah, the Palestinian commercial capital.
In Hebron, also in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, dozens of Palestinian protesters marched in the streets in support of the hunger strikers.
The hunger strike was begun on April 24 by a group of 120 prisoners held under what Israel terms “administrative detention” - or incarceration without trial - of Palestinians suspected of security offenses.
They were later joined by 170 other inmates who also demanded that Israel abolish the procedure, which has drawn international criticism.
Israel's Prisons Service said 65 hunger strikers were being treated in hospitals, although none were in critical condition and all were conscious. A Palestinian lawyer who has visited some of the hospitalized inmates put the number of prisoners who had required hospital care at 100.
“The weight of striking prisoners has gone down by an average of 16 kilograms,” Jawad Bolus told Reuters.
On Friday, a U.N. spokesman said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was concerned about “reports regarding the deteriorating health of Palestinian administrative detainees”. Ban, the spokesman said, reiterated his long-standing position that they be charged or released without delay.
Israel argues administrative detentions are sometimes necessary to avoid court proceedings that could expose sensitive intelligence information or informants.
Lawyers who visited prisoners over the past several weeks said Israel had begun a dialog with some of the hunger strikers' representatives but no progress had been made.
Palestinians regard those jailed by Israel as heroes in a struggle for statehood.
Changes to law
Israel says Palestinians involved in violent anti-Israeli activities are terrorists, and it is in the process of enacting a law aimed at blocking, in any future peace talks, the release of prisoners convicted of killing Israelis.
Legislation that would enable judges to declare convicted killers ineligible for presidential pardons was approved by the full Israeli cabinet on Sunday for submission to parliament, a month after a ministerial committee gave the bill the go-ahead.
The bill must pass two more readings in parliament before becoming law.
Ayelet Shaked of the far-right Jewish Home party who initiated the change said it was aimed at preventing the release of Palestinian militants who killed Israelis as well as other murderers, the French news agency AFP reported.
"The mass release of terrorists through diplomatic deals makes a mockery of the Israeli public as does shortening the prison terms of criminal murderers," she said in a statement.
The latest round of U.S.-led peace talks collapsed in April after Israel refused to release a fourth and last round of 26 long-term prisoners imprisoned for killing Israelis, breaching a commitment made in 2013.
Throughout the talks, Israel released 78 of the promised 104 prisoners, in a move that angered hardliners.
Zehava Gal-On of the dovish Meretz party said the amendment would tie Israel's hands in future talks and accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of "capitulating to the extreme right and supporting a demagogic law," according to the AFP report.
In a separate development, the Israeli government is also seeking to push through legislation which would allow for the forced medical treatment, including feeding of
Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, the AFP reported.
Pope Francis used his Sunday address at the Vatican to thank the faithful for their spiritual support ahead of an evening prayer meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the AP reported.
A group of Palestinians attended the Angelus, waving flags and greeting Pope Francis.
Vatican officials insist no political agenda is lurking behind Pope Francis' invitation to the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to pray for peace together in the Vatican gardens, and no concrete initiatives are expected.
But Sunday's unusual summit - with Jewish, Christian and Muslim prayers intoned in the shadow of St. Peter's Basilica - could take on great significance on the ground.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AFP and AP.