Palestinian prisoners end mass hunger-strike after deal with Israel

JERUSALEM Wed Jun 25, 2014 5:29am EDT

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Scores of Palestinians on hunger-strike ended their protest against detention without trial on Wednesday after winning concessions but no major change of policy from Israel.

About 120 Palestinians on so-called "administrative detention" began fasting on April 24 and were joined over the past two months by 180 others. About 75 needed hospitalization, fuelling debate in Israel over a proposed force-feeding law.

Previous hunger-strikes had stirred international sympathy for the Palestinians and ended with some inmates being released.

But this protest was largely eclipsed by diplomatic crises over the collapse of U.S.-sponsored peace talks after rival Palestinian factions signed a unity deal and by the June 12 kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank.

Qadoura Fares, a Palestinian official acting as an advocate for the prisoners, said the hunger-strike had been suspended overnight with Israel agreeing to remove punishments imposed on the inmates and to other measures affecting them in prison.

"We are not talking about a big, clear victory in the procedural, practical sense, but we are talking an improvement in addressing the issue of administrative detention," Fares said, without giving further details.

Israel and the prisoners would also "continue the dialogue over administrative detention", he told reporters.

An Israeli official confirmed that in response to the protest ending the Prisons Service would not punish the former hunger-strikers. Such sanctions could have included fines or reassigning inmates to different prison wings.

Both sides said prisoners now in Israeli hospitals would be given time to recover before being returned to their cells.

The Israeli official said there was no change to the administrative detention policy, under which Palestinians suspected of security offences are jailed without trial to avoid any court proceedings that could expose sensitive intelligence information. The practice has drawn international criticism.

There are at least 5,400 Palestinians in Israeli jails. The number has grown rapidly with the round-up of suspects following the West Bank disappearances. The military said 17 Palestinians were arrested overnight, bringing the number of those taken into custody over the kidnappings to about 370.

Israel's parliament had been due to vote this week on a bill backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that would enable force-feeding of Palestinian prisoners on hunger-strike. The vote was postponed as lawmakers debated the scope of the law.

The Israeli Medical Association, which represents most of the country's doctors, has denounced force-feeding as unethical.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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