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Palestinian prisoners to end mass hunger strike (TELEGRAPH UK) By Adrian Blomfield, Jerusalem 05/15/12) Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/palestinianauthority/9265695/Palestinian-prisoners-to-end-mass-hunger-strike.html
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Israel has reached a deal with Palestinian prisoners to end a mass- hunger strike in its jails, resolving a dangerous stand-off that had led to warnings of a major uprising in the West Bank.
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More than 1,500 prisoners who had refused food since April 17 as part of an organised protest agreed to resume eating after Israel said it would meet at least some of their demands to improve the conditions in which they are held.
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A smaller group, which embarked on a hunger strike much earlier to protest their incarceration without trial, said it will follow suit after being told they would be freed within months, unless new evidence was brought against them, The group includes 10 prisoners who were said to have been at imminent risk of dying, two of whom have starved themselves for 77 days.
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The plight of the two men, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, has captured the public imagination in the West Bank, with Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate Palestinian leader, warning of an uncontrollable "disaster" if either died.
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Like 300 other prisoners, they were being under "administrative detention", an instrument that allows Israel to hold suspected Palestinian militants for renewable six month periods. Both men were told that their latest six month stint would their last, meaning they will both be free by the end of July.
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The deal, which was brokered by Egypt, will ease tensions ahead of Tuesday´s annual Palestinian commemorations for the 700,000 refugees displaced during the war that accompanied Israel´s creation in 1948 – an often fraught occasion.
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A dozen Palestinian refugees were shot dead as they tried to storm Israel´s borders on the same day last year.
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According to Palestinian negotiators, Israel agreed to meet most of the prisoners´ demands by agreeing to end solitary confinement and allowing inmates to pursue academic studies. Most importantly, prisoners from Gaza will be allowed family visits, reviving a practice that was suspended following the abduction of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli conscript, in 2006 but not lifted after his release last year.
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Israel confirmed the accord, saying that in return the prisoners had agreed to sign commitments promising "not to engage in actions contravening security inside prisons." Israeli officials presented the deal as a personal concession to Mr Abbas, characterising it as a confidence building move to pave the way for the possible resumption of peace talks.
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"In response to the request of Palestinian President Abbas, Israel has agreed to steps that have brought about the end of the hunger strike," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.
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"It is our hope that this decision will serve to build confidence between the parties and further peace."
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In itself, however, the gesture is unlikely to persuade Mr Abbas to return to the negotiating table. The Palestinian leadership has refused to resume talks until Israel halts all settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a step Mr Netanyahu has been loath to take. (© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2012. 05/15/12)
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