Palestinians in Ramallah hold pictures of prisoners 370 (R).
(photo credit:REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Egypt has brokered a deal aimed at ending a hunger strike by 1,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, a Palestinian source close to the negotiations said on Monday.
One in three of the 4,800 Palestinians serving time in Israeli jails began refusing food on April 17 in protest against detention without trial and to demand better conditions like an increase in family visits and ending solitary confinement.
The scope of the hunger strike has posed a new challenge to Israel, which has come under international criticism over detention without trial and could face a violent Palestinian backlash if any of the protesters die.
"Egypt has concluded a deal to resolve the prisoner crisis that included Israel's acceptance of prisoners' demands in exchange for ending the hunger strike," said the Palestinian source who is close to the talks in Cairo.
Asked about news of the deal, an Israeli Prisons Service spokeswoman said: "The strike is still on ... we are not commenting on the process."
Egyptian mediators have been meeting Palestinian officials negotiating on behalf of the hunger strikers, and the source said an official announcement would be made after prisoners sign off on the deal.
While Israel had signaled it was prepared to offer concessions on prison conditions, it has showed no willingness to end so-called administrative detention, where prisoners can be held indefinitely without charge or trial.
Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior official of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's mainstream Fatah movement, said prisoner leaders had been brought to a jail in the Israeli town of Ashkelon for discussions with Israeli officials on implementing the deal.
"We hope the agreement concludes today, barring any obstacles," Ahmed told Voice of Palestine radio.
Ahmed said that under the draft accord, Israel would release so-called "administrative detainees", prisoners held without trial, once their detention period was over. Israel usually holds such prisoners for six-month terms that a military court can extend.
A Palestinian official in Cairo said Israel also had agreed to renew family visits for prisoners from the Gaza Strip that had been suspended after Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit was captured by Hamas and taken to Gaza in 2006. He was released last October in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin