Shikma Jail Security Prisoners End Water-only Fast

Hunger striking security prisoners at Shikma jail in Ashkelon on Saturday ended their water-only fast of the past two weeks after the prison authorities agreed to some of the demands that had sparked the strike, one of the prisoners' representatives in Shikma told the Palestinian support committee for the striking prisoners.

The representatives denied reports, however, that the strike had come to a complete end. The Prisons Service also denied that the authorities at Shikma had met some of the prisoners' demands.

The 350 Palestinian prisoners agreed to drink milk and fruit juice after the jail authorities said that their representatives would be allowed Sunday to make telephone calls to fasting prisoners at other jails.

The prison said that the calls were to enable prisoners to clarify the situation and stance in other jails where the hunger strike is taking place, and to explore the possibility of reaching a similar agreement in those prisons.

The prisoners at Shikma maintained Saturday that the new terms of their strike would last until Monday, when they would review the situation in the other jails, when they would begin negotiations on the removal of glass partitions during visits and telephone privileges.

Palestinians participating in the hunger strike in other prisons are drinking only water. A source on the coordinating committee of the hunger strike said that this situation arose after the prisoners, who had intended to drink milk and juice when they began their fast, were only given water by prison authorities.

UN urges Israel to find solution A statement issued Friday by the UN envoy to the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen, called on Israel to "comply with its international obligations and to make every effort to find, with the prisoners, an appropriate resolution to the hunger strike."

The Red Cross said Friday it had visited prisoners during the hunger strike and was planning to "strengthen its team of medical doctors" to better monitor the strikers' health.

"During the visits, the doctors will stress the possible health consequences of the strike and urge the authorities not to subject detainees to force-feeding or any other form of duress," the Red Cross said in a statement released in Geneva.

Larsen reminded Israel of its obligations under a UN convention and "relevant international human rights instruments which provide for the protection of detainees and prisoners."

Speaking at UN headquarters in New York, associate spokesman Stephane Dujarric quoted Secretary-General Kofi Annan as saying he "hopes that the matter will be resolved soon in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law."

Human rights organizations say only about half of the 4,000 Palestinian "security prisoners" in Israeli jails have been convicted. The rest are either awaiting trial on charges of hostility toward Israel or are held under special regulations allowing detainment without trial.

Rights workers say prison staff are withholding necessary medical care from the striking prisoners and using improper psychological pressure to try and break the protest, which Lefler said was untrue.

"We totally deny these allegations," Lefler said. "The Red Cross makes almost daily visits to every cell where prisoners are fasting and the medical treatment we give to all prisoners is among the most advanced in the world."