Officials nearing agreement to end hunger strikes

Israelis confirm agreement in its last stages, may be signed in days; Fatah prisoners held by Hamas join hunger strike.

May 13, 2012 23:02
3 minute read.
Palestinians in Ramallah hold prisoners' pictures

Palestinians in Ramallah hold pictures of prisoners 370 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)

Israeli security officials confirmed Sunday evening that they were working on an arrangement to end a hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The official stressed, however, that the deal had not yet been completed by Sunday night.

“We are expecting at any moment that an agreement with the Israeli side will be signed in which the prisoners’ demands will be implemented, in particular the end of solitary confinement and improving the situation of the prisoners and allowing family visits,” senior Fatah official Azzam al- Ahmad was quoted by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an as saying.

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“The agreement is in its last stages,” he added.

The possible ending to the hunger strike comes on the eve of “Nakba Day,” which will be held on Tuesday. The day of Palestinian mourning for the creation of the Jewish state is often marked by protests within the Palestinian territories. Already in the last few weeks, Palestinians have staged almost daily protests in support of the prisoners, and their families have set up protests tents in Ramallah.

Some 1,600 prisoners in Israeli jails began a hunger strike on April 17, to protest the conditions under which they are held, which were harshened during the time that soldier Gilad Schalit was held in captivity in Gaza.

Additionally, eight Palestinians held under administrative detention have been on a more prolonged hunger strike, on which two – Bilal Diab, 27, and Thaer Halahleh, 34 – have reached their 76th day.

On Sunday evening, the PLO Executive Committee voiced support for PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s demand to solve the issue of the Palestinian prisoners in Israel who have been on hunger strikes for the past few weeks.

“The executive committee calls on the Quartet members to effectively intervene to correct the path of the peace process and remove the hurdles blocking its way,” the committee said in a statement. “We call on concerned international parties to absorb this clear Israeli message aimed at foiling efforts to resume the peace process.”

The PLO leaders also called for a day of fasting Monday in solidarity with the striking Palestinian prisoners.

On Saturday, PA Prisoners Affairs Minister Issa Qaraqe told the Palestinian news agency that Abbas, PA officials and Egyptian and international mediators had been working hard to find a solution that secures the demands of the hunger strikers.

Both Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank have repeatedly warned Israel that it would face “consequences” if any of the fasting prisoners died of starvation.

Fatah prisoners held in Hamas jails in the Gaza Strip began a separate hunger strike to protest against their incarceration, Palestinian sources reported Sunday. The hunger strike is also in solidarity with hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who have been refusing food for the past few weeks, the sources said.

The Fatah-affiliated Palestine Press News Agency published a letter from the striking prisoners in Gaza in which they hold Hamas responsible for their continued imprisonment, and appeal to Palestinians to exert pressure on Hamas to stop arresting Fatah supporters.

“We the prisoners in the shameful and despicable prisons belonging to the Hamas government declare our support for the heroic prisoners languishing behind Israeli bars,” the inmates wrote in their letter.

“We have decided to go on hunger strike in solidarity with our brothers and call upon international institutions to put pressure on Hamas and the Israeli government to release all the prisoners.”

Hamas has denied arresting Palestinians because of their political affiliations. A Hamas spokesman said that all the prisoners are being held for their involvement in criminal activities and collaborating with Israel.

Fatah officials say that Hamas is holding at least 20 of their men without trial.

Some Hamas prisoners held in PA prisons in the West Bank had also gone on hunger strikes to protest against harsh conditions. Hamas says that the PA is holding dozens of its supporters in West Bank prisons.

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