x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Deal ends Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike

Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners agreed yesterday to end a weeks-long hunger strike after winning concessions from Israel to improve their conditions, the two sides announced.

RAMALLAH // Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners agreed yesterday to end a weeks-long hunger strike after winning concessions from Israel to improve their conditions, the two sides announced.

The deal ended a strike after some inmates had gone without food for up to 77 days, leaving several prisoners in life-threatening conditions.

With the Palestinians set to hold an annual day of mourning today, both sides were eager to wrap up a deal to lower tensions. The Palestinians are marking the "nakba" or "catastrophe" - the term they use to describe the suffering that resulted from Israel's establishment 64 years ago.

The Palestinian minister for prisoner affairs, Issa Qaraqe, said that Palestinian prisoner leaders signed the deal yesterday afternoon at an Israeli prison in Ashkelon.

Israel's Shin Bet security agency and Palestinian militant groups confirmed the agreement, which was brokered by Egyptian mediators.

Two men launched the strike on February 27, and were joined by hundreds of others on April 17.

Among their demands were permission to receive family visits from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, an end to solitary confinement, and a halt to an Israeli policy of "administrative detention" under which suspected militants are held for months, and sometimes years, without being charged.

Israel has defended the policy as a necessary security measure.

According to a Palestinian negotiator, Israel agreed to allow prisoners from both the West Bank and Gaza to receive family visits. The visits from Gaza were halted in 2006 after Hamas-linked militants in Gaza captured an Israeli soldier.

After the soldier was released in a prisoner swap last October, the Palestinians said the ban should be lifted.

He said Israel also agreed to halt its punitive policy of placing prisoners in solitary confinement, would allow prisoners to make phone calls to relatives and permit prisoners to pursue academic studies.

However, there was no word on any change to the administrative detentions.

The Shin Bet said the prisoners pledged "to absolutely stop terror activity from inside Israeli jails".

It also said militant groups' commanders outside the jails made a commitment "to prevent terror activity".

Israel said some 1,600 prisoners, or more than a third of the 4,500 Palestinians held by Israel, joined the hunger strike. Palestinians said the number was closer to 2,500.