Nearly 1,600 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons have ended a 28-day hunger strike after an Egypt-brokered deal was successful and amid fears that any deaths would result in a violent backlash in the occupied West Bank and in Gaza.
The prisoners' hunger strike centered on demands for an end to solitary confinement, more family visits, and the elimination of "detention without trial", a practice condemned internationally as an affront to justice and human rights.
An Egyptian official involved in the talks, tells Al-Jazeera that under Monday's deal to end the strike, Israel had agreed to end solitary confinement for 19 prisoners and lifted a ban on visits to prisoners by relatives living in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Palestinian Authority Prisoners Minister Issa Qaraqi called the agreement a victory, according to the Los Angeles Times.
"This is a first step toward liberation and victory," said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the Islamist group, reports Reuters.
"An agreement has been signed to bring about the end of a 28-day hunger strike by Palestinian security prisoners," the Israel Prisons Authority said in a written statement.
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Most of some 1,600 prisoners, a third of the 4,800 Palestinians in Israeli jails, began refusing food on April 17 although a few had been fasting much longer - up to 77 days.
Their protest centred on demands for more family visits, an end to solitary confinement and an easing of so-called "administrative detention", a practice that has drawn international criticism on human rights grounds.
An Egyptian official involved in the talks said that under Monday's deal to end the strike, Israel had agreed to end solitary confinement for 19 prisoners and lifted a ban on visits to prisoners by relatives living in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Israel also agreed to improve other conditions of detention,and to free so-called administrative detainees once they complete their terms unless they are brought to court, according to the official.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri confirmed the deal, telling Reuters that "the prisoners signed the deal after their demands were met. The deal was brokered by Egypt."
Israel also confirmed an accord had been struck.
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The Los Angeles Times reports:
The deal ends the longest and one of the largest hunger strikes ever organized by Palestinian prisoners. About 1,600 Palestinians prisoners had refused food since April 17. Two detainees -- Bilal Diab, 27, and Thaer Halahleh, 33 -- began their strike Feb. 28 and are now in serious condition.
Many Palestinians leaders had warned that the death of any prisoner might spark widespread public outrage and possibly violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Palestinian Authority Prisoners Minister Issa Qaraqi called the agreement a victory. Israeli officials said they agreed to go further in making concessions than they had previously as a goodwill gesture toward Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who made a personal appeal on behalf of the prisoners over the weekend.
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Israel did not say whether it would free any administrative detainees, but pledged in its statement that an inter ministerial team would look at prisoner requests and issue recommendations.
Around 320 of Palestinian prisoners are held in "administrative detention", a security measure Israel defends as a precaution to protect undercover sources.
Many of the other prisoners have been convicted of serious crimes, including murder. Palestinian leaders say they should be treated as prisoners of war, something Israel rejects.
Israel says the detentions without trial are necessary because some cases cannot be brought to open court for fear of exposing Palestinian intelligence sources who have cooperated with Israel.
Palestinians jailed by Israel are held in high esteem by their compatriots, who see them as heroes in what they term a struggle against occupation.
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