Gaza City: New Hamas leader Ismail Haniya pledged support for hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners on Monday in his first comments since being elected as head of the movement that runs the Gaza Strip.
Haniya, who was chosen by the party as its new leader on Saturday, said the movement stood with the hundreds of prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails.
“This visit is a message to our heroic prisoners that your cause was and will remain a top priority,” he said during a visit to a protest in support of the strikers in Gaza.
“Your freedom is a national duty and your dignity is our dignity,” the 54-year-old added.
Hamas has run Gaza since 2007 but is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States and the European Union.
Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails have been refusing food since April 17.
Israeli authorities put the current figure at 860 hunger strikers, while Palestinian officials say 1,500 have been participating.
They have issued a list of demands including better medical services, family visits and more dignified detention conditions.
The strike is being led by Marwan Barghouti, a member of Fatah — a rival political faction to Hamas. On Sunday, Israeli authorities distributed video footage purporting to show Barghouti secretly eat in his cell.
Barghouti’s wife and other Palestinian officials dismissed the video as fake and an attempt to break the hunger strikers.
Some 850,000 Palestinians have been incarcerated since Israel’s occupation of their territories 50 years ago, Palestinian leaders say.
Haniya, seen as a pragmatist within Hamas, was elected by its Shura Council Saturday.
Unlike his predecessor Khaled Meshaal he is expected to be based in Gaza, the Palestinian enclave Hamas has run since 2007 after expelling Fatah following a near civil war.
Haniya takes charge of Hamas as it seeks to ease its international isolation while not marginalising hardliners within the movement.
Last week it unveiled a new policy document easing its stance on Israel after having long called for its destruction.