More than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners who have been on hunger strike in Israeli jails have agreed to end their protest following negotiations.
As many as 1,600 Palestinians were thought to be refusing food in prisons in Israel, protesting at the conditions in which they are being held.
Most began their mass action on 17 April, although a handful, who had gone without food for even longer – some since February – are said to be critically ill.
But after talks, believed to have involved Egyptian mediators, the detainees are reported to have agreed a settlement.
The protests centred on the Israeli policy of “administrative detention”, which allows for suspected militants to be held without charge or trial.
They have been demanding improved conditions, an end to solitary confinement and the resumption of family visits, which have been suspended for many of the prisoners.
Israel argues that administrative detention is used when it believes there is a risk to security, or to informants.
There are thought to be at least 4,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and fears were growing of a backlash among Palestinians if any of the protesters died.
The Hamas government in Gaza told Reuters on Sunday that a “positive conclusion” to negotiations between Israel and the prisoners was expected “within hours”, and by Monday afternoon, the breakthrough was reported.
It is not yet clear what terms have been agreed or whether the prisoners have yet begun to take food again.
If anyone dies today or tomorrow or after a week, it would be a disaster and no-one could control the situation. Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president
Last week Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned that the death of any prisoner would be a disaster.
He said: “If anybody dies today or tomorrow or after a week it would be a disaster and no one could control the situation.”
“I told the Israelis and the Americans if they do not find a solution for this hunger strike immediately, they will be commiting a crime.”
The UN and EU have expressed concern about the conditions of the hunger strikers, and have urged Israel to honour its “legal obligations” under international law to “do everything in its power to preserve the health of the prisoners”.
Israel’s Supreme Court last week rejected appeals from two of the prisoners, but said Israeli authorities should consider freeing them on medical grounds.
The EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah have demanded “full respect of [Israel’s] international human-rights obligations towards all prisoners” and insist that detainees have the right to be informed of the reasons for their detention, and to “a fair trial without undue delay”.
Every day brings more risk to the lives of those detainees, some of whom have been on hunger strike for more than 76 days. ICRC spokesman
The UN’s Special Rapporteur, Richard Falk, has criticised the treatment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons, and its Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, urged a rapid resolution “before it is too late”.
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been allowed access to the hunger-strikers, most recently on Sunday.
A spokesman told Channel 4 News: “Every day brings more risk to the lives of those detainees, some of whom [have been] on hunger strike for more than 76 days.
“We have asked the Israeli authorities to transfer them to a hospital in order for a medical team to follow up on their condition. We will continue to visit them, and the other detainees, regularly.”
The ICRC has also asked Israel to allow family visits for those on hunger strike to resume.
Israel says the authorities are providing medical treatment for the prisoners, who were free to choose their own doctors if they wished.
“But ultimately, this is not about medical facilities,” said a government spokesman. “This is about hard-core activists, from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who through this protest are trying to instigate violence.”