Hundreds of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners ended their 40-day fast on Saturday (27 May) after reaching a compromise with Israel for additional family visits, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.
Roughly 1,100 inmates had initially taken part in the strike – the biggest of its kind – after Palestinians demanded better conditions, more visits and an end to arbitrary detention.
More than 800 prisoners had stuck to the strike until Saturday when Israel reached a deal with the Palestinian Authority and the Red Cross for prisoners to be allowed a second family visit each per month, Israel prison service spokeswoman Nicole Englander said.
She added that 18 prisoners were receiving treatment in hospital.
Many Israelis view the prisoners as terrorists and have little sympathy for their demands. More than 6,000 Palestinians are currently in prison for offences linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for charges ranging from stone-throwing to weapons possession and attacks that killed or wounded Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Palestinians rallied behind the hunger strikers as national heroes, relishing a rare break from deep divisions between two rival political groups, the Islamic militant group Hamas which runs Gaza, and Fatah, the movement of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who administers autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Palestinians hoped the protest would draw the attention of a seemingly distracted international community as the Israeli occupation reaches its 50-year anniversary in early June.
Israel's public security minister, Gilad Erdan, alleged that the hunger strike was motivated by a power struggle in Abbas' Fatah movement.
He claimed that imprisoned strike organiser Marwan Barghouti cynically exploited his fellow prisoners to boost his standing in Fatah and secure his position as a possible successor to Abbas. Barghouti's family has denied such claims.
Barghouti is serving five life terms after being convicted by an Israeli court of directing two shooting attacks and a bombing that killed five people. In prison since 2002, he never mounted a defence, saying the court had no jurisdiction over him.