Progress in Talks Between Palestinian Hunger Strikers, Israeli Officials

As a goodwill gesture, prison officials agree to release several prisoners from solitary confinement.

Representatives of hunger striking Palestinian prisoners, mainly identified with Fatah, met over the last two days with Israel Prison Service officials to discuss their demands. The meeting took place at Rimonim prison in the Sharon region with the participation of Palestinian detainees who were brought to the meeting from jails around the country, Haaretz has learned.

The discussions centered on the issues of solitary confinement and family visits from Gaza. As a goodwill gesture, prison officials have agreed to release several prisoners from solitary confinement. Prison authorities also promised to consider family visits from Gaza.

A protester holding a poster of a Palestinian prisoner who is on hunger strike in Israeli prison.

The prisoners are demanding a response in writing on the issue of giving prisoners' relatives documents they can present at a border crossing if the visits are allowed. The prison service declined to comment on news of the contacts.

Prisoners have been striking over solitary confinement, the barring of family visits from the Gaza Strip, a ban on academic study and the opportunity to receive books. These sanctions were imposed while Gilad Shalit was being held in the Gaza Strip.

Prisoners with relatives in the West Bank can receive family visits, which are coordinated through the Red Cross. Protesters demonstrated this week in Ramallah in front of the offices of both the Red Cross and the United Nations seeking the immediate intervention of the two international organizations on behalf of the prisoners.

Hunger-striking administrative detainees, who are jailed without charge for up to six months, a term that is renewable indefinitely, are demanding that they be charged or released. On Thursday UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon demanded the same of Israeli authorities.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday that the PA would not restrain its response if any of the prisoners reach the point where they are in danger of sudden death. Abbas, who met with some of the hunger-striking prisoners' relatives on Thursday, said the prisoner issue is a matter of great concern to him and the PA would spare no effort to have all the Palestinian prisoners released.

Physicians for Human Rights in Israel expressed concern on Thursday over the fate of ten Palestinian prisoners who have been on hunger strike for over 45 days or been refused medical care. They include eight administrative detainees. The physicians' organization said the prison service has declined to give these prisoners medical care at civilian hospitals or from independent physicians, adding that the policy raised concerns it is designed to break the hunger strike. The prison service called the organization's allegations baseless and said it was unfairly sullying the reputation of the prisons' medical staff.