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Palestinians in jail hunger strike

Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel have launched a hunger strike demanding an end to open-ended detentions without trial.

Outside Palestinians marked their annual day of solidarity with the inmates.

Some 3,500 prisoners refused meals on "Prisoners' Day," and 1,200 of them said they would continue with an open-ended hunger strike, the Israeli prison service said.

The mass hunger strike is one of the largest on record, said Sahar Francis of Addameer, a prisoner rights group.

Although it remains unclear how many will continue with the protest, they join 10 other Palestinian prisoners already on hunger strike, including two who have been hospitalised after refusing food for more than 40 days, she said.

The activities, which included protests throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, coincided with the scheduled release of the longest hunger striker in Palestinian history.

Khadnan Adnan, who did not eat for 66 days, was set to be freed later as part of a deal reached with Israel.

Adnan, a spokesman of the violent Islamic Jihad group, called his strike to protest Israel's policy of "administrative detention," in which Palestinians can be sentenced to months or years behind bars by military courts without being charged. In February, Israel agreed to release him at the end of his detention in exchange for ending the hunger strike.

The fate of the prisoners held by Israel is one of the most emotional issues in Palestinian society. Their crimes range from throwing stones to deadly militant attacks. They are generally seen as heroes - even when their crimes have involved killing civilians.

In demonstrations throughout the Palestinian areas, hundreds of people held framed pictures of their loved ones in prison and waved the brightly coloured flags of different Palestinian political factions.

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