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Islamic Jihad prisoners claim to end hunger strike after reaching deal

Israeli security official says no such negotiations took place, adds that claims about the hunger strike were greatly exaggerated

A prison guard is seen in a watchtower at Gilboa prison, in northern Israel, September 6, 2021. (Flash90)
A prison guard is seen in a watchtower at Gilboa prison, in northern Israel, September 6, 2021. (Flash90)

After nine days, the leadership of a prisoners group affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group announced the end of a hunger strike that was launched last week in protest of new Israeli policies toward Palestinian detainees.

The unofficial body claimed on Friday that it had come to an agreement with the Israel Prisons Service on Thursday night to meet several of its demands. A spokeswoman for the prisons service said it does not respond to external reports.

But a security official familiar with the situation told The Times of Israel on Friday that the prisoners’ group’s claims were false, and that there had been no negotiations whatsoever between prisoners and wardens.

“There was no official hunger strike in the numbers they claimed, and there were no negotiations,” the official claimed. Despite reports of 250 prisoners taking part in a nine-day hunger strike, the official said that at its peak, 40 prisoners took part, but not for the entire time period.

“The same way they started it in an unorganized manner, they also ended it in an unorganized matter,” said the official, claiming that no immediate changes would be occurring in the prison following the hunger strike. “If something will change in the future it has nothing to do with this.”

The unofficial Palestinian Prisoners Club claimed last week that around 250 Islamic Jihad prisoners began a hunger strike last Wednesday. Since six Palestinian security prisoners fled Gilboa Prison in northern Israel in early September, the Israel Prisons Service has taken a number of measures in an attempt to reduce the chances of another escape.

A protester flies a Palestinian flag and chant slogans next to burning tires during clashes with Israeli troops following a demonstration supporting Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, at the entrance of the West Bank city of Nablus, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

The policies included breaking apart clusters of Islamic Jihad prisoners, moving some to other jails as well as solitary confinement for certain inmates. Family visits have also been postponed. The fugitives — since recaptured — were also dispersed to five prisons across the country.

“There is only one demand: return the situation to the way it was before [the escape],” Prisoners Club director Qadura Fares told The Times of Israel in a phone call last week. According to a statement from the club on Friday, it was able to “accomplish most” of its goals for the hunger strike.

The Prisoners Club is a Palestinian organization that advocates on behalf of Palestinians in Israeli jails. While the organization used to be financially supported by the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah has reportedly ceased funding the body for at least three years.

Islamic Jihad chief Ziad al-Nakhaleh said last week that the terror group would be willing to go to war on behalf of its prisoners.

“Palestinian Islamic Jihad will not leave its members in Zionist prisons to be victims at the hands of the enemy. Accordingly, we will stand with them and support them with everything we have, even if this means we must go to war for their sake,” said al-Nakhaleh. “No agreements or any other considerations will prevent us from that,” he said.

Five out of the six prisoners who escaped from the Gilboa Prison last month — who all hailed from around the West Bank city of Jenin — belonged to Islamic Jihad, a small Iran-backed Islamist terror group. The sixth, Fatah member Zakaria Zubeidi, masterminded terror attacks during the Second Intifada as a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

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