Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike have agreed to a deal with Israel to end their fast in exchange for an easing of their conditions, Palestinian and Israeli officials said on Monday.
“All of the factions signed an agreement to end the strike,” Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club told AFP after several hours of negotiations between prison officials and the senior detainees at Ashkelon jail.
A spokeswoman for the Israel Prisons Service confirmed an agreement had been reached, saying it applied to most, but not all of the prisoners, referring to those who had been refusing food “for 28 days.”
Earlier on Monday, a deal brokered by Egypt was reached between Israel and the Palestinian prisoners to end the mass hunger strike.
Some 1,600 prisoners, a third of the 4,800 Palestinians held by Israel, have been refusing food since April 17 in a protest that has challenged Israel’s policy of detention without trial and put the spotlight on jail conditions.
The demands of the prisoners also included family visits and an end to solitary confinement.
The peaceful campaign has focused attention on the so-called “administrative detention”, a practice that has drawn international criticism, and raised fears of a violent Palestinian backlash if any of the protesters die.
Palestinian officials said Egypt had drafted an agreement in Cairo with representatives of the Palestinian prisoners, and that inmates would meet during the day to sign off on the deal.
Egyptian mediators have been meeting Palestinian officials negotiating on behalf of the hunger strikers, and the source said an official announcement of the deal would be made after prisoners and Israeli authorities work out details on putting the accord into motion.
While Israel had signaled it was prepared to offer concessions on prison conditions, it had till now showed no willingness to end so-called administrative detention, where prisoners can be held indefinitely without charge or trial.
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 fellow Palestinians, who see them as heroes in what they term a struggle against occupation.
The hunger strikers include 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 people held a rally in Gaza in support of the hunger strikers, chanting “We will give our souls and blood to redeem the prisoners.”