Palestinian security prisoners end hunger strike over cellphones

Palestinian security prisoners end hunger strike over cellphones

After weeks of tension over Prisons Service jamming devices, Hamas inmates to hand in some 300 smuggled phones, get access to public telephones

Illustrative: Palestinian security prisoners in Ofer Prison, north of Jerusalem, August 20, 2008. (Moshe Shai/Flash90/File)
Illustrative: Palestinian security prisoners in Ofer Prison, north of Jerusalem, August 20, 2008. (Moshe Shai/Flash90/File)

A hunger strike by dozens of Palestinian security prisoners belonging to the Hamas terror group has come to an end after Israeli officials reportedly agreed to install public telephones in their prison wards.

“An agreement in principle has been reached between the prisoners and the management of the occupation’s prisons regarding their demands,” the Palestinian Prisoners Club said on its Facebook page on Monday.

According to representatives of the prisoners who spoke with Hebrew media, the hunger strike, launched by some 150 Hamas prisoners on April 8, formally concluded after Israel agreed to install public telephones in the 44 prison wards where the security prisoners are kept, and to allow prisoners to make regular, supervised calls to their families.

Citing Israeli officials, Channel 12 said Monday the agreement only permitted calls to first-degree relatives, and prisoners have accepted the condition that the calls would be listened to by security officials.

The strike began after the Israel Prisons Service installed cellular jamming devices in the wards to prevent prisoners from using smuggled cellphones. The IPS said some 300 contraband cellphones, some carrying messages between terror cells, had been smuggled into the wards in recent months. The cellphones were being used to coordinate terror attacks, and had been implicated in at least 14 recent attempts at coordinating attacks from inside Israeli prisons, the IPS said.

Illustrative: Palestinian prisoners stand in a cell, pending their release from Ketziot prison in southern Israel, on October 1, 2007. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit/File)

But the leaders of the prisoners said the phones’ primary use was to stay in touch with family.

Israeli officials did not react to the hunger strike in its first days, likely because of its proximity to the April 9 elections. Qadri Abu Bakr, the chairman of the Prisoners Affairs Commission, was cited by Wafa last week as saying IPS officials seemed to be under political pressure to delay the talks until after election day.

Reports on the agreement Monday were not entirely consistent. Some Palestinian sources suggested to the Haaretz daily that Israel had agreed to remove the jamming devices in wards where cellphones were handed over to prison officials. Israeli sources told other outlets the jamming devices would not be removed, as future phone smuggling could not be ruled out, but public phones would be made available to prisoners.

In exchange for the installation of the public phones, the prisoners have agreed to hand over all smuggled cellphones, the reports said.

When the strike began, prisoners were also demanding the reinstating of family visits from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. It is not yet clear if Israel has acquiesced to this demand in the new agreement.

Illustrative: Ketziot Prison, August 2009. (Moshe Shai/Flash90/File)

The hunger strike began in Ketziot and Rimon prisons after talks to avert it collapsed.

The PLO’s Prisoners Affairs Commission said in a statement last week that additional groups of prisoners in other prisons would join the initial group of striking prisoners “in the coming days,” the PA’s official Wafa news agency reported.

The row over incarceration conditions has recently sparked violence, including riots at Ketziot Prison that, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club, left 120 prisoners hurt in altercations throughout February and March.

Twice last month, Hamas prisoners violently attacked guards at Ketziot Prison, with one guard sustaining serious injuries from a stab wound to his neck on March 3. In the second attack, inmates used shanks to stab guards while the prisoners were being moved between cells, sparking a riot in the prison.

Israeli soldiers evacuate a wounded guard of the Israel Prison Service to Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva, southern Israel, on March 24, 2019. Two prison service guards were stabbed by Hamas prisoners at the Ketziot Prison. (Meir Even Haim/Flash90 )

The Prisoners Club said the Israel Prisons Service responded by completely isolating several prisoners involved in the post-stabbing riot in “very dire conditions,” stripping them of their personal belongings, family visitation rights and interactions with other prisoners.

The IPS said that 11 prisoners were injured and hospitalized after security forces quelled the violent March 3 riot. Seven of the prisoners were airlifted to hospitals by the IDF, the Haaretz daily reported at the time.

In late February, Hamas prisoners in Ramon Prison torched 14 beds, setting a fire in the wing. The blaze was quickly extinguished and no injuries were reported. In that incident, too, prisoners were protesting restrictions on cellphone usage.

There has been concern that a mass hunger strike could increase military tensions with the Hamas terror group along the Gaza border, at a time when Egyptian mediators were seeking to secure a long-term ceasefire between the sides.

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