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Egypt brokers deal to end hunger strike

May 14, 2012 9:49 A.M. (Updated: May 14, 2012 7:46 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Reuters) -- Egypt has brokered a deal aimed at ending a hunger strike of some 1,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, a Palestinian source close to the negotiations said on Monday.

"Egypt has concluded a deal to resolve the prisoner crisis that included Israel's acceptance of prisoners' demands in exchange for ending the hunger strike," said the source, who is close to the talks in Cairo.

The Palestinian Authority minister of prisoners confirmed that Egyptian officials and the PA were waiting for a response from detainees.

"We are waiting for the strikers' response on what was agreed on. The leaders of the strike will meet today in Ashkelon prison to discuss the issue and announce their final position, which will determine the future of the strike," Issa Qaraqe said.

The agreement brokered by Egypt included ending solitary confinement, not renewing administrative detention for detainees held without trial, releasing all prisoners who have finished their sentence and allowing family visits and phone calls, the PA minister added.

One in three of the 4,800 Palestinians held in Israeli jails began refusing food on April 17 in a protest against detention without trial and to demand improved conditions such as an increase in family visits and ending solitary confinement.

Bilal Diab, 27, and Thaer Halahla, 33, have gone for 77 days without food.

Egyptian mediators have been meeting Palestinian officials negotiating on behalf of the hunger strikers, and the source close to negotiations said an official announcement of the deal would be made after prisoners and Israeli authorities work out details on putting the accord into motion.

Senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad told Ma'an on Sunday that a deal between Israeli officials and a committee consisting of high profile prisoners from different Palestinian political factions was in its final stages.

Asked about news of the deal, an Israeli Prisons Service spokeswoman said: "The strike is still on ... we are not commenting on the process."

On Monday, thousands of people held a rally in Gaza in support of the hunger strikers. "We will give our souls and blood to redeem the prisoners," the crowd chanted.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report
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