JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Scores of Palestinians on hunger strike suspended their protest against detention without charge by Israel on Wednesday, but an Israeli official denied suggestions there had been any major change of policy in return.
Around 120 Palestinians on so-called “administrative detention” began fasting on April 24, and were eventually joined by another 180 inmates. Around 75 required hospitalization, fuelling debate in Israel over a proposed force-feeding law.
Qadoura Fares, a Palestinian official representing the prisoners, told Reuters the hunger strike had been suspended overnight after the detainees had secured an undertaking from their Israeli jailers for better conditions.
An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that in response to the protest ending, the Prisons Service would not punish the hunger strikers. Such sanctions could have included fines or reassigning inmates to different prison wings.
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.
Previous hunger strikes ended with some of the protesting inmates securing release from Israeli detention.
Israel has at least 5,400 Palestinians in its jails. The number has been growing daily, with round-ups of suspects following the abduction of three Israeli teenagers who vanished after leaving a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank on June 12.
Israel’s security cabinet convened late on Wednesday and said the huge search for the three would go on. It also said it would consider ways to stop the Western-backed Palestinian Authority from paying stipends to convicted prisoners, but gave no details of how this might be done.
Israel’s parliament is due to vote next week on a bill backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that would enable force-feeding of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike.
The Israeli Medical Association, which represents most of the country’s doctors, has denounced force-feeding as unethical.
Writing by Dan Williams, Ori Lewis and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Andrew Roche