Israel was clearly trying to undermine the mass hunger strike, which prisoners say is aimed at better conditions in confinement. The strike is also meant to rally Palestinians, who have carried out numerous protests in support of the prisoners and plan another general strike in the occupied West Bank on Thursday.
In an interview here in the Palestinians’ administrative capital, Ms. Barghouti rejected Israel’s claim that the strike was also intended to bolster the standing of Mr. Barghouti within the divided Palestinian power structure. Mr. Barghouti, 57, is considered the most popular possible successor to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.
He is also in prison for life, convicted of five murders 15 years ago during the second intifada.
Referring to the hundreds of strikers, Ms. Barghouti asked skeptically, “All of them are there to raise the profile of Marwan Barghouti?”
“This is the most peaceful way of protesting,” she said. “And Israel has decided to respond by declaring a full-fledged war.”
Israeli officials have said they will not engage in negotiations with the prisoners, whose demands include more family visits, an end to solitary confinement, better health care and greater access to education.
The prisoners say they are surviving only on water and salt, although Israeli officials, in addition to accusing Mr. Barghouti of cheating, say some prisoners are taking vitamin supplements.
Again, accounts vary of the deteriorating health of the prisoners: Mr. Librati said that doctors were checking the prisoners regularly and that 12 prisoners were sent to the hospital for tests in the past two days. Only one remained, he said, as of Tuesday afternoon.
Qadura Fares, the director of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, said four prisoners were seriously ill at two prisons.
Ms. Barghouti said the past 23 days had been the most difficult of 32 years with her husband. She said she had had no contact with Mr. Barghouti, in solitary confinement at Kishon prison, since 10 days before the strike began.
“These are basic demands,” she said. “They could have been met by the Israeli prisons without the prisoners going through all the pain of a hunger strike.”
“We believe the Israelis are sending a message: ‘Even basic demands, we don’t intend to meet them,’” she added. “This is a reflection of the impasse we have reached with Israel in general.”