RAMALLAH, West Bank – Israel's Prison Service released footage on Sunday that it says shows the leader of a mass Palestinian hunger strike breaking his fast, a claim dismissed by the Palestinians as an attempt to undermine the open-ended strike, now in its 21st day.
Assaf Librati, a spokesman for the prison service, said strike organizer and Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouti ate a candy bar on May 5 and cookies on April 27. He said surveillance was increased and Barghouti was caught on film eating.
Footage aired by Israeli media shows a prisoner sitting down fully clothed on a toilet unwrapping something and putting it in his mouth. Other footage shows a prisoner eating something near a sink.
Qadoura Fares, who heads an advocacy group for Palestinian prisoners, cast doubt on the footage, saying Barghouti is being held in solitary confinement and has no access to food.
"This is a fabrication," Fares said of the footage released Sunday. "This is psychological warfare that we expected Israel to wage against the strike." He said that "the prisoners will not buy this account from the Israeli side, and they will continue their strike."
Barghouti, a leader of the second Palestinian uprising, is serving five life terms after being convicted by an Israeli court of directing two shooting attacks and a bombing that killed five people. Barghouti, who disputed the court's jurisdiction and did not mount a defense, has been in prison since 2002.
Polls suggest that the 58-year-old Barghouti is the most popular choice among Palestinians to succeed 82-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Palestinians have held large rallies in support of the hunger strike since it began. After decades of conflict, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been imprisoned at one time or another for acts ranging from stone-throwing to carrying out attacks that wounded or killed Israelis.
Palestinians say the mass hunger strike is an attempt to improve conditions inside the jails and gain more family visits. Israeli officials have dismissed the strike as a bid by Barghouti to burnish his credentials in an internal Palestinian power struggle.
"This hunger strike was never about the conditions of the convicted terrorists, which meet international standards," Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan said. "Barghouti is a murderer and hypocrite who urged his fellow prisoners to strike and suffer while he ate behind their back."
Fares said earlier Sunday that some of the hundreds of Palestinians participating in the hunger strike began taking vitamin supplements on day 15. He said guards had punished the strikers by seizing all personal items and leaving prisoners "with nothing except their beds." He says the information comes from lawyers who recently visited the strikers.
Israel holds about 6,500 Palestinians on charges related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel says 890 prisoners are participating in the hunger strike.