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Israel, Palestinian prisoners ink deal to end strike
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH, YAAKOV LAPPIN, YAAKOV KATZ
05/15/2012
Agreement commits Palestinian prisoners to refrain from involvement in “activities against security” within prison walls.
 
Israel and Palestinian security prisoners on Monday signed an Egyptian-mediated deal to end a 28-day hunger strike by inmates.

According to the terms of the agreement, Palestinian prisoners committed to refrain from involvement in “activities against security” within prison walls. In exchange, previously suspended benefits will be reinstated by the Prisons Service, including the renewal of familial visits and allowing inmates held in separate cells to return to the general prison population.

The agreement was made possible after leaders of the striking prisoners signed a commitment to completely halt terror activities from inside Israeli prisons, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said in a rare statement.

Inmate leaders – who are outside prison – instructed the prisoners to stop such terror activities, the statement said.

Palestinians hailed the prisoner agreement as a triumph, with both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority taking credit for the “achievement.”

In the Gaza Strip, Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate the “victory” of the prisoners.

A small group of Palestinians in east Jerusalem also took to the streets to celebrate the agreement. Some of them chanted slogans calling for the abduction of IDF soldiers, to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Various Palestinian political groups in the Gaza Strip praised the striking inmates for their “legendary” endurance during the hunger strike. The groups also praised Egypt for playing a major role in mediating between the parties.

The Hamas government said that it had made tremendous efforts to end the plight of the prisoners.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh thanked the Egyptians for their role in helping to broker the agreement, official Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram’s website reported.

Speaking in Gaza, Haniyeh also congratulated the prisoners who “successfully achieved their demands,” and praised the “steadfastness of the prisoners,” according to the report.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials traveled to Cairo this week for talks with the Egyptian government and PA representatives regarding ways to end the hunger strike.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, said that Israel negotiated the strike-ending deal in response to a request from PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

“It is our hope that this gesture by Israel will serve to build confidence between the parties and advance peace,” he said.

The prisoner strike issue was discussed Saturday night when Netanyahu’s envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, delivered a letter from the prime minister to Abbas.

The Israeli Right slammed the deal.

Likud MK Danny Danon said the agreement was “a serious mistake. Instead of worsening the [imprisonment] conditions of terrorists, they are given presents. Prisoners’ conditions should be clear – no family visits, no benefits in buying products and no release from isolation for security prisoners.”

Danon said he would ask for an urgent discussion in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on the agreement and would try to prevent its implementation.

Some 1,600 prisoners, a third of the 4,800 Palestinians in Israeli jails, began refusing food on April 17 in a protest that also included demands for more family visits and an end to solitary confinement.

The peaceful campaign has focused attention on 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.

Israel had set a goal to end the hunger strike before “Nakba Day” on Tuesday, amid fears that the strike would lead to greater violence by Palestinian demonstrators.

Meanwhile, the families of prisoners Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahle, who have been on hunger strike for more than two months, announced that their sons were not part of the deal.

The families said that their sons have decided to continue their hunger strike until they are released from prison.

Leaders of the inmates signed the agreement on behalf of all security prisoners – belonging to all groups – being held in Israeli prisons.

The agreement is binding for prisoners who are rearrested in the future.

Before reaching the agreement, an Israeli committee made up of representatives from the Prisons Service, Justice Ministry, Foreign Ministry and Health Ministry, as well as the Shin Bet and National Security Council, examined the prisoners’ request, and passed on recommendations to Israeli decision-makers.

Prisoners who were on hunger strike will remain under medical supervision to ensure that a return to eating will not result in medical complications, Israeli authorities said.

The authorities added that the prisoners received their full legal rights throughout the hunger strike.

Herb Keinon and JPS contributed to this report.
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