Palestinian Prisoners Say Hunger Strike Postponed After Negotiations With Israel

Prisoners claim Israel gave in to their demands to remove cellphone jammers and install payphones. Israeli officials deny the reports

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

Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails have agreed to postpone a planned hunger strike after Israel gave in to their demands, prisoner sources said Saturday, hours before the strike was scheduled to begin on Sunday morning. Israeli officials have denied the reports.

According to the prisoner sources, the Israel Prison Service agreed in talks with Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoner leaders to remove cellphone jammers installed in wards housing Hamas prisoners serving sentences for security-related offenses and to install payphones.

A senior prisoner leader said Hamas prisoners at Ketziot spoke with their families and with Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, in what they say is a proof the jammers are not operating.

>> Hamas pressure could force Israel to deal with prisoners' hunger strike days before election | Analysis ■ Israeli politics and SpongeBob: Conversations with Palestinian security prisoners

Sources among the security prisoners met with Israel Prison Service officials on Sunday in Ramon prison. Israeli officials refused to comments. The Palestinian Prisononers Club said before the meeting that negotiations continue "on a positive note," with an official announcement on the steps ahead expected later.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan's bureau vigorously denied that jammers had been removed. "In light of false Palestinian reports I would like to make clear: The jamming of cellphones has not been suspended in the Israel Prison Service security prisons and no such suspension has been proposed!" Erdan tweeted Saturday night.

Prisoners are also demanding the cancellation of punishments against inmates involved in recent riots, such as the stabbing of prison guards at Ketziot two weeks ago, as well as family visits for prisoners from Gaza, a wider selection of food products in canteens and making more TV channels available for them to watch.

Recent reports about the strike frustrated Fatah prisoners, who grew irritated with their own leadership, arguing that while Hamas's violence, including setting cells at Ramon Prison ablaze and stabbing guards, leads to achievements, Fatah prisoners' calmer attitudes in dealing with Israeli authorities remains ineffective.

"Anybody who thinks that Fatah prisoners will continue being goody-goodies is mistaken," a prisoner source said. "It turns out that just like in Gaza, Israel surrenders to Hamas's violence in prisons, too. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's government only understands force, and at the end they [the prisoners] get what they want."

According to several prison sources, the leaders of Hamas' protest, with whom Israel is negotiating, are members of the organization who were behind the Park Hotel bombing, which killed 29 people as they celebrated the Passover seder in the city Netanya in 2002.

Abbas Sayed, who is serving 35 life sentences for masterminding the attack, is said to be leading the prisoners' protest, alongside two other senior operatives also involved in the same attack.

Sources said Mohammed Arman, who is serving 36 consecutive life sentences for his part in attacks against Israelis in Jerusalem, is also leading the protest at Ramon Prison.

"They understand that Israel has already given in to their main demand and now they continue to threaten to strike because that brings more achievements," a senior Israeli figure said.