Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike have agreed on a deal with Israel to end their fast in return for an easing of their conditions, officials on both sides said.
The deal was reached after talks mediated by Egypt and the Palestinian Authority and made possible by the agreement of Palestinian groups “outside the prisons,” Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency said in a statement on Monday.
Most of some 2,000 prisoners, more than one-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.
After the announcement of the deal Al Jazeera learned that Thaer Halahleh who had threatened to continue will also end his hunger strike as well. Halahla has been fasting for 76 days.
Al Jazeera’s Cal Perry, reporting from Jerusalem, said the celebrations that erupted in Gaza after the deal was announced may be premature.
“We haven’t heard that this deal is going to change [the Israeli policy of] administrative detention. There are at least 308 Palestinians held in administrative detention and in this deal they will continue to serve out their sentences,” Perry said.
“We’re not seeing sentences being shortened and people aren’t going to be going free tonight. I think these celebrations will be short-lived especially because it’s close to Nakba Day,” he said in reference to May 15, the date Palestinians commemorate as “day of catastrophe” that followed Israel’s independence in 1948.
Deal brokered by Egypt
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 the Reuters news agency that “the prisoners signed the deal after their demands were met. The deal was brokered by Egypt”.
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.