JERUSALEM — Demonstrations are growing in the occupied West Bank over the issue of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Hundreds of Palestinians held a protest march in the territory to demand the release of four hunger-striking prisoners. The hunger strike is highlighting the fate of some 4,500 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.
The protesters vowed to redeem the prisoners “in spirit and in blood.” When they tried to march to an Israeli prison they were stopped by soldiers. The Palestinians burned tires and threw stones at Israeli troops, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Israel is holding Palestinians in jail for charges ranging from throwing stones to undertaking deadly militant attacks.
Protests have been brewing for the past week amid reports that the health of the hunger strikers is deteriorating. Palestinians warn that if any of the prisoners die, it will lead to an eruption of violence.
“There will be a harsh response,” a young protester told Israeli TV. He said there are many ways to respond, including armed attacks on Israelis.
The growing unrest has Israel worried about a third Palestinian uprising after a long period of calm. Danny Yatom, a former general who commanded Israeli forces in the West Bank, told Israel Radio that Palestinians are in despair because peace talks have been frozen for four years, and there is no end in sight to the occupation.
But Israeli moderates made gains in national elections in January, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that reviving negotiations with the Palestinians will be a priority of his new government. U.S. President Barack Obama hopes to give a boost to the peace process when he visits Israel and the Palestinian territories next month.