RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners agreed Monday to end their 28-day hunger strike after Israel promised to improve jail conditions, release detainees from solitary confinement and make other concessions.
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.
Under the terms of the deal, Israel agreed to release about 18 prisoners from solitary confinement and allow them to be integrated with other detainees, in return for a promise that those prisoners refrain from engaging in criminal or terror activities from their jail cells, Israeli and Palestinian officials said Monday.
Israel also said it would facilitate visits by family members based in Gaza Strip who were previously banned from seeing their jailed relatives in the West Bank.
Israel’s use of so-called “administrative detention” was another sticking point. More than 300 Palestinians, including Diab and Halahleh, were arrested under a procedure that allows them to be held indefinitely without charges or a trial.
Under the terms of the deal, Israel may continue the practice, an Israeli official said. But current prisoners held in administrative detention will either be formally charged or released at the end of their current terms, which typically last about six months, both sides said.
The condition of approximately 4,500 Palestinians currently held in Israeli jails is one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since most Palestinian families have at least one member who has been arrested or detained, support for the prisoners has historically been high.
-- Edmund Sanders
Photo: A Palestinian, showing solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, stands chained to a cage during a demonstration in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Credit: Abbas Monani / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images