RAMALLAH: Dozens of Palestinian prisoners who had refused food for 62 days have suspended their hunger strike after reaching a deal with the Israel Prisons Service, their lawyer told AFP.
The prisoners began refusing food on April 24 in protest at being held by Israel without charge or trial under a controversial procedure called administrative detention, which can be indefinitely extended for years by a court order.
“The strikers, who have reached an agreement with the Israeli prison authorities, have decided to suspend their action with the approach of Ramadan,” Ashraf Abu Snena said.
Israel confirmed the agreement, details of which have not immediately been made public.
“The hunger strike was suspended overnight,” Israel Prisons Service spokeswoman Sivan Weizman told AFP, saying the sides had reached a “short-term agreement.”
“This arrangement does not involve any suspension or cancellation of the use of administrative detention,” Weizman said.
But the former Palestinian Prisoners’ Affairs Minister said there could be limits to its use under the deal.
“One stipulation was that their administrative detentions would not be renewed for more than six months,” Issa Qaraqe told Voice of Palestine radio, adding that there had been “European intervention” to persuade prisoners to accept the deal.
“This deal will not cancel the law ... but bringing this issue to [the] fore is one step towards cancelling it in the future,” Qaraqe said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the agreement, saying in a statement that it would entail “means which will ensure there are fewer prisoner strikes in the future.” He did not elaborate.
Some 75 prisoners were on hunger strike when the deal was reached, according to the IPS. The IPS has said the strike was the longest-ever staged by Palestinian detainees.
Some of the strikers were kept alive with vitamins and sugars, but others took only water, according to prisoners’ rights group Addameer.
Under administrative detention, which Palestinian leaders and human rights groups have denounced, prisoners can be held for six-month periods that can be indefinitely renewed.
Around 200 of the 5,000 or so Palestinians held by Israel are administrative detainees, although that number looks set to double as Israel presses a major arrest operation in the West Bank following the disappearance of three teenagers believed to have been kidnapped by Hamas.
So far, 371 Palestinians have been arrested – 280 of them Hamas members – with most expected to be slapped with administrative detention orders.
Israel’s army did not respond to requests for comment on the procedure, but former IPS Commissioner Orit Adato said holding prisoners without charge was the only way to protect Israel’s network of Palestinian informants.
In a bid to prevent further hunger strikes, the Israeli government is planning to pass a controversial law that would allow the authorities to force-feed prisoners. The U.N. urged Israel not to approve the bill.