An Edinburgh University student taking part in a hunger strike in protest against the war in Gaza said it is a “last resort” after other methods of protest failed.

The student, who referred to herself only as Nevis, is one of five people currently on hunger strike in the city, with more members of the university’s Justice for Palestine Society due to join the hunger strike in the coming days.

The protesters’ demands include the university ending its investments in companies and funds they see as linked to the Israeli military.

Edinburgh University principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Sir Peter Mathieson, urged the students on hunger strike not to risk their health.

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It is part of a wider protest against the war in Gaza that saw activists set up a campsite next to the Scottish Parliament on Friday April 26, and around 40 students occupy the lawn in the university’s Old College on Sunday May 5.

Nevis said the hunger strike was intended to force the university to pay attention to them after protesters had “taken every means of action we could” to get them to engage with their demands.

“We’ve done protests every week, we’ve been occupying buildings, we’ve written a petition that gathered almost 2,000 signatures, we’ve tried negotiations, we’ve tried open letters, we’ve tried about everything,” she said.

“We did meet with upper management but we were just stalled and passed from one bureaucratic process to the other without getting any actual engagement with our demands.”

She added: “Deciding to go on hunger strike is a last resort situation, to force upper management to face the situation they are putting their students in, and force them to face their failure at upholding a democratic process in the university and at listening to the staff and students.

“They do have a duty of care towards us so they kind of have to engage with us now. We have actually already gotten some engagement.”

She said members of university management would have “blood on their hands” if they did not take action to support the Palestinian cause.

“To me it’s completely insane that people are continuing with business as usual,” she said.

“People are just desensitised to the point of ignoring a genocide taking place, and I think every singly person in parliament, in upper management, any single person who has any strategic power who is not doing something for Palestine has blood on their hands and needs to be aware of that and needs to get their heads out of the sand.”

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Prof Sir Mathieson said in a statement: “We have very recently been notified of the intention of an unknown number of students to commence a hunger strike as an indication of their strength of feeling and determination around issues related to Palestine and Israel.

“Whilst we recognise their bodily autonomy, we appeal to them and others not to take risks with their own health, safety and wellbeing.

“Please make yourself known to us at any point at which we may be able to direct you to support.

“We are in daily contact with the protesters to ensure they are aware of the health and wellbeing support available to them.”

A University of Edinburgh spokesperson said: “The continuing violence and loss of life in Palestine is deeply distressing and we understand that members of our community are rightly concerned about the devastating toll of this ongoing conflict.

“We have been engaging with student and staff groups on this issue for several months and we are committed to listening to their concerns. We are deeply concerned for the wellbeing of the students taking part in this latest action and we urge them to prioritise their health.

“We steadfastly support the right to take part in lawful, peaceful and respectful protest and we are monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of the protesters, while also working to minimise disruption to staff, students and visitors to our campus.”

The students’ action comes as students from more than a dozen UK universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, take similar action over the Israel-Hamas conflict.

University vice-chancellors have been invited to a meeting at No 10 Downing Street on Thursday, where Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan will discuss antisemitism on campuses and ensuring the safety of Jewish students.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said on Tuesday: “The right to free speech does not include the right to harass people or incite violence.

“We expect university leaders to take robust action in dealing with that kind of behaviour and that will be the subject of the conversation in No 10 later this week to ensure a zero-tolerance approach to this sort of behaviour is adopted on all campuses.”