Jerusalem: In the early hours of Saturday, following a grueling 20 hours of negotiations hundreds of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners announced the suspension of their 40-day hunger strike that began on April 17.
As information about what was agreed to slowly filtered out, with the main humanitarian demand of two visits per month being clinched, prisoners’ families — who have been holding continuous protests in tents throughout the occupied territories — broke out in cheers and celebrations.
Israel prison service spokeswoman Nicole Englander also said the inmates declared an end to the strike Saturday morning. She said it came after Israel reached a deal with the Palestinian Authority and the Red Cross for prisoners to receive a second family visit each per month.
Hundreds of prisoners observed the strike they said was aimed at improving prison conditions.
The hunger strike had evolved into one of the longest such protests with this many participants since Israel’s 1967 capture of territories Palestinian seek for their state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Englander said 1,578 prisoners participated in the hunger strike overall and 834 ended their fast Saturday. She said 18 were being treated in hospitals.
Many Israelis view the prisoners as terrorists and have little sympathy for their demands. More than 6,000 Palestinians are currently in prison for offenses linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for charges ranging from stone-throwing to weapons possession and attacks that killed or wounded Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Palestinians rallied behind the hunger strikers as national heroes, relishing a rare break from deep divisions between two rival political groups, the Islamic militant group Hamas which runs Gaza and Fatah, the movement of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who administers autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to AP.
The prisoners’ success was the headline of the independent website Maan, which read: “The prisoners have won and have suspended their strike.”
Similarly, former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tweeted: “The prisoners won with their will and this is the forerunner for the victory of our people.” He followed his tweet with the now-popular hashtag #IndependenceAndDignity.
Palestinians hoped the protest will draw the attention of a seemingly distracted international community as the Israeli occupation hits the 50-year mark in early June.
Support for the prisoners is an emotional consensus issue; hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been jailed by Israel at one time or another since 1967.
Israel’s public security minister, Gilad Erdan, alleged that the hunger strike was motivated by a power struggle in Abbas’ Fatah movement. He claimed that imprisoned strike organizer Marwan Barghouti cynically exploited his fellow prisoners to boost his standing in Fatah and secure his position as a possible successor to Abbas. Barghouti’s family has denied such claims.
Qadoura Fares, who runs the Prisoners’ Club advocacy group, said negotiations took place between Israel officials and a committee from the prisoners, including Marwan Barghouti. He said negotiations began on Friday and were the first since the strike began.
Barghouti is serving five life terms after being convicted by an Israeli court of directing two shooting attacks and a bombing that killed five people. In prison since 2002, he never mounted a defense, saying the court had no jurisdiction over him.
Earlier this month, Israel released footage it said shows Barghouti breaking his fast. Palestinians say the video is a fabrication.