Israel Denies Palestinian Prisoners' Claim That It Agreed to Remove Jammers to Prevent Hunger Strike

Sources say Israel held talks with Hamas, Islamic Jihad representatives and agreed to some conditions for averting strike, which is planned to begin on Sunday

File photo: Guards escort a prisoner in Ramon Prison, 2017.
Israel Prison Service

The government denies it has signaled a willingness to remove cellphone jammers from prison wards in an attempt to avert a hunger strike by Palestinian security prisoners.

Sources among the prisoners told Haaretz that defense officials had offered to install public phones in the wards and to ease other restrictions on prisoners. The office of Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, however, strongly denied these claims.

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Prisoners argue that the jamming equipment, installed in response to the smuggling of cellphones into prisons, damages their health. 

The sources said there have been attempts to reach an understanding to prevent the strike, including a meeting Thursday between Israeli officials and representatives of Hamas prisoners; on Friday, such a meeting reportedly included representatives of Islamic Jihad as well.

The government's proposal included the resumption of negotiations after Tuesday's election to discuss additional demands by the prisoners, the sources said. The prisoners' representatives agreed to discuss the proposal with their factions and make a decision by Saturday evening.

Defense officials seek to prevent a strike, which a senior official says could lead to violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There are also fears about violence erupting in wards, prompting the prison service to deploy special units in prisons. 

As of Friday, four leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad were believed to be planning a full hunger strike in which they would refuse water as well. The other prisoners would gradually join each day.

Erdan, the public security minister, met with senior defense officials and the director general of the Health Ministry on Thursday to prepare for a possible deterioration in prisoners' health.

The planned strike comes after a Palestinian prisoner tried to stab an Israeli prison officer at Keziot Prison this week, a day after an incident in which two prison officers there were stabbed.

Prisoners are also demanding the cancellation of punishments against inmates involved in recent riots such as the transfer of some prisoners to Ketziot. They also want family visits for prisoners from Gaza, a wider selection in the canteens and expanded television rights.

“Israel’s aggressive actions against the prisoners are the cause of the hunger strike,” and the strike will be open-ended, a person close to the Hamas prisoners told Haaretz.

“The equipment that causes cancer and harms prisoners’ health, and any further harm done to the prisoners are Israel’s responsibility,” the source said.