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Palestinian inmates agree to end hunger strike (REUTERS) By Nidal al-Mughrabi GAZA 05/14/12 1:29pm EDT) Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/14/us-palestinians-israel-prisoners-idUSBRE84D0DG20120514
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(Reuters) - Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails agreed on Monday to an Egyptian-brokered deal aimed at ending a mass hunger strike that challenged Israel´s policy of detention without trial and raised fears of a bloody Palestinian backlash if any protesters died.
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Most of some 1,600 prisoners, a third of the 4,800 Palestinians in Israeli jails, began refusing food on April 17 although a few had been fasting much longer - up to 77 days.
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Their protest centered on demands for more family visits, an end to solitary confinement and an easing of so-called "administrative detention", a practice that has drawn international criticism on human rights grounds.
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An Egyptian official involved in the talks said that under Monday´s deal to end the strike, Israel had agreed to end solitary confinement for 19 prisoners and lifted a ban on visits to prisoners by relatives living in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
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Israel also agreed to improve other conditions of detention, and to free so-called administrative detainees once they complete their terms unless they are brought to court, according to the official.
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Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri confirmed the deal, telling Reuters that "the prisoners signed the deal after their demands were met. The deal was brokered by Egypt."
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Israel also confirmed an accord had been struck. "An agreement has been signed to bring about the end of a 28-day hunger strike by Palestinian security prisoners," the Israel Prisons Authority said in a written statement.
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It said the prisoners were to sign a commitment "not to engage in actions contravening security inside the jails".
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In exchange for such guarantees, Israel would grant these prisoners easier terms including a lifting of solitary confinement and a possibility of primary relatives visiting them from Gaza, the statement said.
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Palestinian officials said Egypt had drafted an agreement in Cairo with representatives of the Palestinian prisoners, and that inmates met during the day to sign off on it.
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The talks, held in Israel´s Ashkelon jail, south of Tel Aviv, between senior prisoners and Israeli authorities, had hit a snag earlier, but an Egyptian mediator apparently managed to break the deadlock.
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Israeli authorities had balked at the agreement´s call for the release of any inmate whose detention term, usually a six-month period that can be renewed by a military court, has ended, according to officials involved in the talks.
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Relatives´ visits from Gaza were suspended after Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured by Palestinian militants and taken to the Hamas-ruled territory in 2006. He was released last October in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
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Israel says the detentions are necessary because some cases cannot be brought to open court for fear of exposing Palestinian intelligence sources who have cooperated with Israel.
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Palestinians jailed by Israel are held in high esteem by their compatriots, who see them as heroes in what they term a struggle against occupation.
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The hunger strikers included militants from Islamist Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which reject peace with Israel, as well as members of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas´s Fatah group.
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Two inmates who helped to launch the strike, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahla of Islamic Jihad, were in the 77th day of their fast on Monday.
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Last week, Israel´s Supreme Court turned down their request to be freed from detention without trial but said security authorities should consider releasing them for medical reasons.
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The court said administrative detention "causes unease to every judge" but was a necessary evil because Israel was "constantly fighting terror".
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A month ago, Israel released hunger striker Khader Adnan, an Islamic Jihad member, amid concern he would die. He agreed to end his fast after 66 days in exchange for a promise not to renew his detention.
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On Monday, thousands of Palestinians held a rally in Gaza in support of the hunger strikers, chanting, "We will give our souls and blood to redeem the prisoners!" (editing by Mark Heinrich) (© Thomson Reuters 2012. 05/14/12)
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