Palestinian inmates agree to end hunger strike

[Update:  Further news  from the Financial Times, citing Addameer (the prisoners rights group), reported on the Egypt-brokered deal and its effect on the longer hunger strike among Palestinian prisoners:
“:Sahar Francis, director of Addameer, said the agreement appeared to be favourable for Palestinian inmates. “It’s good – as far as the prisoners’ main demands, this appears to be enough,” she said.

It was not clear what impact the accord would have on a separate hunger strike by several prisoners against Israel’s policy of detaining Palestinians without charge for months or even years.

The Israeli activist organisation Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said on Monday that at least seven administrative detainees were on weeks-long hunger strikes. Most have been refusing food for at least 40 days. The group also said two had been refusing food for more than 70 days and were “in imminent risk of death”.

According to Israeli human rights activists, international law says countries should use administrative detentions only in exceptional cases but Israel implements it as a “blanket measure” against Palestinians….

The agreement did not make any mention of administrative detentions.” (See the Financial Times and Addameer for more information. –Frontlines ed.]

by Nidal al-Mughrabi | Reuters | May 14, 2012

A Palestinian artist paints a mural in Gaza City in support of Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike in Israeli jails May 14, 2012. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

A Palestinian artist paints a mural in Gaza City in support of Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike in Israeli jails May 14, 2012. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Palestinian women look at a man standing inside a mock prison cell during a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 14, 2012, in support of Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike in Israeli jails. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Palestinian women look at a man standing inside a mock prison cell during a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 14, 2012, in support of Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike in Israeli jails. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

GAZA (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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

It said the prisoners were to sign a commitment “not to engage in actions contravening security inside the jails”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

HIGH ESTEEM

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The court said administrative detention “causes unease to every judge” but was a necessary evil because Israel was “constantly fighting terror”.

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.

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)

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