The prisoners are demanding improved conditions, a change to visiting policies, the installation of public telephones and the end to detention without trial and solitary confinement.

The hunger strike, planned over several weeks, was launched on Monday to coincide with Prisoners’ Day.

Violent clashes broke out between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops across the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza on as tens of thousands of Palestinians marched in support of the hunger strikers.

Dozens of injuries from live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets were reported as supporters from all the main Palestinian political factions, including Hamas, Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and Islamic Jihad took to the streets.

In response to the hunger strike, the Israeli authorities placed Marwan Barghouti, a leader of the Fatah-affiliated Tanzim organisation, and one of the instigators of the hunger strike, in solitary confinement.

Barghouti is serving several life sentences for attacks carried out against Israelis during the second Palestinian uprising or Intifada.

Further disciplinary measures by the Israeli Prison Services (IPS) included the forced transfer of prisoners to different jails and confiscation of their belongings.

The IPS considers refusing meals as an offence punishable by way of withdrawal of privileges

“The IPS has a great deal of experience in coping with hunger strikes, and it has the ways and the means to deal with them. It should be noted that the Prison Service does not conduct negotiations with prisoners,” an IPS statement said.

Despite the internal bickering and schisms between the various political factions, especially the Palestinian Authority (PA) -affiliated Fatah movement and Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip, the issue of Palestinian prisoners is close to the hearts of all Palestinians with the result being that the various factions have united behind Barghouti who is from Fatah.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas published a statement supporting the hunger-striking prisoners and called on the international community to intervene before their medical condition deteriorates.

Issa Qaraqe, the head of prisoners’ affairs from the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) used a warning on Sunday against the disciplinary measures being taken by the IPS.

“The Palestinian people, in every place where it lives, declared today that the prisoners’ issue is sacred to it and that the occupation government will not enjoy quiet and security as long as it violates the rights of the Palestinian people and harms its prisoners,” said Qaraqe.

The Palestinian people declared today an intifada on behalf of the prisoners who are conducting a campaign whose foundation is a hunger strike for their rights and their dignity,” he added.

Qadura Fares, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS), and a close ally of Barghouti, said the campaign launched on Monday would mark a turning point in the prisoners’ struggle that “opens a door to the start of a popular intifada for Palestinian national unity and the rights of the Palestinian people”.

Israeli-Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, and leader of the Joint List party Osama Saadia expressed support for the hunger strikers on behalf of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee.

“Israel is counting on disunity among the prisoners, but we are certain that all of the Palestinian prisoners are united in this campaign, which is a campaign for the liberty of the Palestinian people,” he said.

Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Hamas’ military wing Izzedin Al Qassam, said that the release of Palestinian political prisoners was a top priority for the group and that his organisation was closely monitoring developments.

Meanwhile, Fadwa Barghouti, the wife of Marwan Barghouti, called on Palestinians to rally behind the prisoners beyond the events of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day.