Prisoners Break Hunger Strike at Shikma Prison

Hunger-striking security prisoners at Shikma prison in Ashkelon have broken their two-week fast and begun drinking milk and juice, in exchange for promises by the Prisons Service to meet some of their demands, according to reports by prisoners to the committee following the strike, and a prisoner's statement by telephone to Haaretz.

However, Prisons Service officials denied that an agreement had been reached, "nor had there been, or will be, any negotiation or compromise on issues of prison security and state security. All reports from Ramallah about surrender or compromise are made-up," a spokesman said, adding that Shikma Prison's 350 security prisoners stopped their strike on Friday with no prior conditions being met.

But according to prisoners, Shikma authorities were to cease nude body searches, improve the food and give prisoners more yard time. Demands to remove the glass partition between prisoners and visitors and use of a pay phone were not met. Prisoners said their radios and televisions had been returned to them, and they were allowed into the exercise yard yesterday. According to an informal understanding, talks between prisoners and the authorities will begin tomorrow on prisoners' demands, at which time they will be allowed to make phone calls to fasting prisoners in other jails.

Shikma inmates are said to wield considerable authority among security prisoners in other jails.

One striking prisoner told Haaretz that he believed the authorities would take more severe steps this week to break the strike. He admitted that this was among the reasons they reached the agreement on Friday, although he said the authorities were concerned about a deterioration in the situation. "We told them that if a prisoner dies, a telephone and a visit will not bring him back to life."

The prisoner said that the authorities' attitude in this hunger strike had been harsh from the outset. Although prisoners had been willing to drink juice and milk, these were not provided. Salt was taken away from them, as well as various personal items.

The prisoner said the older prisoners expected many of the younger ones not to hold up under the strike, but even they were surprised at the number that had stopped it by Friday - some 40 at Shikma.