Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails have called off a hunger strike that lasted 40 days after reaching a deal that involved the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Israel Prisons Services, officials on both sides said Saturday.
According to the prisons service, an agreement was reached after talks that involved the Red Cross to end the strike before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that begins Saturday. The prisons service denied Palestinian claims that strike leader Marwan Barghouti had negotiated with Israeli officials.
The prisons service said the prisoners would now get an extra family visit per month, one of the prisoner demands that is administered solely by the Red Cross.
The Red Cross had reduced the visits from two to one per month about a year ago because they said they lacked the funds to pay for them and most times no relatives were showing up. The Palestinian Authority has agreed to pay for the new visits.
Israel said none of the other Palestinian demands had been met.
Palestinian officials representing the prisoners told the Ma’an news agency that the negotiations directly involved strike leader Barghouti, who they said was brought especially to the Ashkelon prison for talks with Israeli officials that lasted more than 20 hours. Israel denied that any talks had been held with Barghouti or the prisoners.
The hunger strike, which began on April 17, was called by Barghouti, a prominent Fatah terrorist and political figure. Barghouti is serving five life sentences for murders committed during the second Palestinian intifada.
Israel has all along refused to negotiate with the prisoners, noting that many were convicted terrorists and their conditions were in line with accepted norms.
But the strike has also provoked wide-spread solidarity protests among the Palestinians and in recent days there have been dozens of clashes with the IDF in the West Bank and Gaza.
On Friday some of the prisoners, who have been only drinking a mixture of water and salt, had threatened to join in the Ramadan fast too, abstaining from drinking during daylight hours. This would have rapidly exacerbated their condition.
Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners had been refusing food over conditions for about 6,500 Palestinian inmates.
Among their demands were access to telephones, more family visits, improved medical care and an end to punitive solitary confinement.
According to the Palestinian Authority, over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners reached their 40th day of the strike. Israel said the number was closer to 800.
Israel largely viewed the strike as having less to do with actual conditions and more to do with internal Palestinian politics, saying it was a strategic political move by Barghouti, who wanted to demonstrate his influence on the Palestinian street ahead of a bid to succeed PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Nevertheless, Israel worked hard to undermine Barghouti during the strike, including planting a candy bar in his cell and releasing a film of him eating it.
Israel also released a handwritten note from Barghouti listing his demands in an effort to show how soft the demands were.
Among the demands Barghouti made were 20 channels of television, unrestricted books and magazines, air conditioning, a greater selection of items available for purchase in the canteen, family visits, the restarting of open university studies, public telephone use, and annual medical checks for prisoners.
“We have explained in detail to American envoy Jason Greenblatt the issue of the prisoner strike and we have called for American intervention to ensure that the rights of prisoners are protected and their humanitarian demands are granted,” Abbas said.
“We shall be in touch with him to give us the answer of the Israeli side,” Abbas said, adding he hoped to announce a response “in the evening or tomorrow.”
It was not immediately clear if the Americans were involved in the talks.