Palestinian security prisoners began a hunger strike Sunday, demanding their release from Israeli prisons.
Reports that Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat was joining the hunger strike to show solidarity with the prisoners were denied by Palestinian officials.
But Arafat called on Israel to release the prisoners.
“We are asking for what has been agreed upon to be implemented,” Arafat said. “This issue has to be put at the top of the Israeli government’s agenda.”
About 6,000 prisoners are now held in jails in Israel and the West Bank.
Some 3,000 of them belong to the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement; about 2,500 belong to Al Fatah, the PLO’s mainstream group; and the rest belong to smaller factions.
The hunger strike began at the Nablus jail in the West Bank and was expected to spread to other prisons.
Israel Television quoted Israel Prison Service officials as saying that only a few hundred of the prisoners were taking part in the strike.
Under the terms of the Cairo Agreement signed by Israel and the PLO in May 1994, Israel agreed to release some 5,000 of the 10,000 prisoners it held at the time.