Palestinian Prisoners End Mass Hunger Strike

At least 1,200 Palestinians in Israeli jails have agreed to end a mass hunger strike in a deal mediated by Egypt. Israeli officials have promised to ease prison conditions in exchange for the end to the fast.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. The biggest hunger strike in Palestinian history has been called off. Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have reached a deal with Israeli authorities. At least 1,200 prisoners have been refusing food, demanding improvements in prison conditions.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports on today's deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: For weeks now, there have been daily rallies in support of the prisoners in Israeli jails who have been refusing food in protest. Most Palestinians have had a family member imprisoned by Israeli authorities at some point, so the mass fast galvanized the Palestinian population in a way few things have recently.

The deal today was brokered by an Egyptian representative and was signed in an Israeli prison. Palestinians in Israeli jails will now have expanded visitation rights from family members and, crucially, from the Gaza Strip. Since 2006, family members there have not been allowed to visit their relatives in West Bank jails, and there will now be an end to the widespread practice of solitary confinement.

One of the main demands was not met. Palestinian prisoners wanted a stop to administrative detention, a practice in which Israel can hold prisoners indefinitely without charge or legal recourse. Administrative detention will continue, but the practice will be reviewed, according to Israeli authorities.

The apparent success of the hunger strike in getting concessions from Israel has renewed the focus on non-violent resistance. Over the past few years, Palestinian activists and officials have encouraged its use against the Israeli occupation, saying it works to pressure the Israeli government.

Still, it's not believed all the prisoners will end their fast. Two of the hunger strikers have not eaten for 78 days. That's eight days longer than IRA prisoner Bobby Sands, when he died on his strike in 1981. Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh have said they will not start eating again until their administrative detentions are lifted. Both men are members of Islamic Jihad, a violent Palestinian militant group that has carried out scores of attacks on Israelis, but because they were never charged with anything, it's not clear why they're still being held or if, with this new deal, they will be released.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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