JERUSALEM – Talks were under way Saturday between Palestinian prisoners and Israeli officials to end a mass hunger strike that began last month to protest jail conditions, and both sides expressed optimism that they will reach agreement soon.
“The next 24 hours are crucial,” Palestinian Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqi said on Palestinian radio Saturday.
More than 1,600 prisoners launched a hunger strike April 17 to demand an end to solitary confinement, an increase in family visits and the restoration of privileges, such as the right to study, that were stripped in 2006 after the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Gaza Strip-based militants. Shalit was released last year.
Two other prisoners who have refused food since Feb. 28 are demanding that Israel end their “administration detention,” a practice in which Israel holds Palestinians indefinitely without charges or trial. The two men are believed to be in serious condition.
Qaraqi said he expected their cases to be included in any settlement.
Israeli officials declined to comment on the talks, but officials told Israeli media that they hope to end the strike in the coming days.
The talks come amid rising public frustration among Arabs in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and inside Israel.
The issue of Palestinian prisoners is a sensitive one because nearly every family in the West Bank has at least one member who has been in prison.