Skip to main content

Palestinian prisoner hunger strike ends in Israeli jails

Prisoner hunger strikes stop after 40 days to coincide with beginning of Ramadan after night-time negotiations
Palestinian women hold portraits of relatives held in jails and have gone on hunger strike in East Jerusalem (AFP)

Palestinian prisoners have ended their hunger strike in Israeli jails after going without food and water for nearly 40 days.

The hunger strike was ended following night-time negotiations that involved the Red Cross, Palestinian and Israeli sources told the AFP. 

Some 30 of the more than 800 hunger strikers had been hospitalised in recent days, raising fears of an escalation of clashes with Israeli security forces in the occupied West Bank.

A statement released by the National Committee for the Freedom and Dignity of the Hunger Strikers said that the "hunger strike renewed the resistance struggle for the Palestinian people".

It added that further details of the deal would be released later today but that the hunger strike was a "victory for the prisoners and the Palestinian resistance".

Palestinian analysts also hailed the deal as a victory for the hunger strikers after Israeli authorities repeatedly vowed not to negotiate with convicted "terrorists".

Palestinian Authority prisoners' affair chief Issa Qaraqe said it had come after some 20 hours of talks between Israeli officials and strike leader Marwan Barghouti, a figure revered among Palestinians but reviled by many Israelis.

An Israel Prisons Service spokeswoman confirmed the hunger strike was over but said the deal had been reached not with prisoners' representatives but with the Palestinian Authority and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Israeli authorities conceded to one of the prisoners' main demands - that they should have two family visits a month instead of the one they were entitled to before the strike, the spokeswoman said.

The ICRC had warned on Thursday that its doctors who have been visiting the prisoners were concerned about "potential irreversible health consequences".

Start of Ramadan

ICRC spokesman Jesus Serrano welcomed Saturday's end of the strike and said it would do all it could to facilitate the additional visits.

The resolution of the strike coincided with the start of the Muslim dawn-to-dusk fasting month of Ramadan.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas had urged US counterpart Donald Trump to raise the issue with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to the region earlier this week.

He raised the issue again with Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt in a meeting at his headquarters in Ramallah on Thursday.

Palestinian protestors holding up portraits of Marwan Barghouti in front of a statue of Mandela (AFP)

Demonstrations in support of the prisoners had been held across the West Bank, leading to repeated bloody clashes with Israeli security forces.

They come as the 50th anniversary nears of Israel's seizure of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, in the Six-Day War.

The hunger strike was led by Barghouti, a prominent figure in his Fatah movement leader revered by many Palestinians in contrast to the increasingly unpopular president.

'Palestinian Mandela'

Dubbed the "Palestinian Mandela" by supporters, Barghouti is serving five life sentences on charges of involvement in murders committed during the 2000-2005 second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, that have made him a hate figure for many on the Israeli right.

Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan had vowed there would be no negotiations with the hunger strikers, calling them "terrorists and incarcerated murderers".

But the Palestinian Authority's Qaraqe said Israeli officials had held some 20 hours of negotiations with Barghouti to end the strike.

Barghouti was moved to solitary confinement and received a single reported visit by the ICRC to check on his condition on 11 May.

On 7 May, Israel's prison authority shared a video of what it said was Barghouti eating biscuits in a break from the strike.

His wife, Fadwa, dismissed the footage as a "fake ... intended to break the morale of prisoners" and called on Pope Francis to intervene.

Palestinian analysts hailed the deal as a victory for the hunger strikers.

"It is very likely that the United States was directly involved in the discussions," said one analyst, Hani al-Masri.

Abdel Majid Sweenem welcomed the fact that the Israeli authorities had been forced to negotiate with prisoner representatives after trying to avoid doing so at all costs.

"But we still have to see if Israel will respect its commitments," he said.

Hours before Trump's arrival on his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Monday and Tuesday, the Israeli cabinet approved a rare package of confidence-building measures aimed at improving the Palestinian economy and easing housing construction.

The decision, which Israel said was at US request, was bitterly opposed by Netanyahu's far-right coalition partners Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

Israeli prison authorities have said that the strikes were also ended to coincide with the holy month of Ramadan, which began across the Muslim world on Saturday.