Palestinians halt 62-day hunger strike after deal

Palestinians hold posters with slogans and portraits of detainees during a demonstration on June 10, 2014, outside the Red Cross building in Jerusalem in support of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who were on hunger strike. Sixty-three Pa
Palestinians hold posters with slogans and portraits of detainees during a demonstration on June 10, 2014, outside the Red Cross building in Jerusalem in support of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who were on hunger strike. Sixty-three Palestinian prisoners who have refused food for 62 days have suspended their hunger strike after reaching a deal with the Israel Prisons Service, their lawyer told AFP. -- PHOTO: AFP

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories (AFP) - Sixty-three Palestinian prisoners who have refused food for 62 days have suspended their hunger strike after reaching a deal with the Israel Prisons Service, their lawyer told AFP.

The prisoners began refusing food on April 24 in protest at being held by Israel without charge or trial under a controversial procedure called administrative detention which can be indefinitely extended for years.

"The strikers, who have reached an agreement with the Israeli prison authorities, have decided to suspend their action with the approach of Ramadan," Ashraf Abu Snena said, referring to the Muslim fasting month which begins this weekend.

Israel confirmed the agreement, details of which were to be made public later on Wednesday.

"The hunger strike was suspended overnight," Israel Prisons Service (IPS) spokesman Sivan Weizman told AFP.

She said the sides has reached a "short-term agreement" which allowed for the hunger-strikers, all of whom are being treated in hospital due to their rapidly failing health, to suspend their action.

Earlier this month, the IPS said the hunger strike was the longest-ever staged by Palestinian detainees.

"But this arrangement does not involve any suspension or cancellation of the use of administrative detention," Ms Weizman said. "This measure will continue to be used."

Administrative detention is a procedure dating back to the British Mandate of Palestine (1920-1948) under which prisoners can be held for six-month periods, which can be indefinitely renewed by a court order.

Around 200 of the 5,000 or so Palestinians held by Israel are administrative detainees, although that number looks set to double as Israel presses a major arrest operation in the West Bank following the disappearance of three teenagers believed kidnapped by Hamas.

So far, 371 Palestinians have been arrested - 280 of them Hamas members - with most expected to be slapped with administrative detention orders.

The Palestinian leadership and human rights groups have denounced the use of administrative detention, urging international pressure on Israel to scrap the measure.

Earlier this month, UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about the deteriorating health of the hunger-strikers and demanded that Israel either charge or release them.

In an attempt to prevent further hunger strikes, the Israeli government is planning to pass a controversial law which would allow the authorities to force-feed prisoners. It is to be put to a second and third vote in parliament on Monday.