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Committee: IPS to meet with prisoners to discuss remaining demands of hunger strike

June 1, 2017 5:52 P.M. (Updated: June 2, 2017 5:43 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- Head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqe said on Thursday that a joint committee of Palestinian prisoners who were on hunger strike was expected to meet with officials of the Israel Prison Service (IPS) on Monday, June 5, in order to “discuss the remaining demands of the prisoners.”

Qaraqe, who had previously reported that 80 percent of the demands of the hunger-striking prisoners -- who suspended their 40-day strike last month -- were met, made no mention of the fact that IPS has consistently maintained that it did not negotiate with the prisoners.

However, the meeting lines up with statements made by Marwan Bargouthi, the imprisoned Fatah leader who was a reportedly decisive figure during the talks with IPS that ended the strike, and the primary leader of the mass hunger strike.

On Tuesday, Barghouthi said that the hunger strikers were able to “extract a number of just and humanitarian achievements” from prison authorities, and that prisoners had agreed to the formation of a “committee of senior officials of the Prison Service” to continue dialogue with representatives of the Palestinian prisoners during the following days “to discuss all issues without exception.”

“In light of this and with the coming of the holy month of Ramadan, we have decided to suspend the strike to give the opportunity to carry out these discussions with the Prison Service, emphasizing our strong readiness to resume the strike if the Prison Service does not fulfill its commitments made to the prisoners,” Barghouthi added in the statement.

The hunger-striking prisoners had been calling for an end to the denial of family visits, the right to pursue higher education, appropriate medical care and treatment, and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention -- imprisonment without charge or trial -- among other demands for basic rights.

An IPS spokesperson was not immediately available to comment on the alleged meeting set to take place Monday.

On Monday, the Internal Affairs Committee of Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, held a session regarding the strike, during which an IPS official maintained that “at no point did IPS negotiate with the hunger-striking security prisoners, and it did not accept any of their demands.”

“In the past, the second monthly visit was fully funded by the Red Cross, which paid for the buses for the families,” senior IPS official Asher Vaknin told the committee.

“The Red Cross decided to pull the funding. During the strike, the Palestinian Authority decided to fund the transport of the families to the prisons, thus allowing a second monthly visit, and we informed the prisoners of this. They decided that this would suffice. We did not cancel the second monthly visit, and we did not reinstate it either,” Vaknin said.

On Thursday, Qaraqe called upon international human rights organizations “to protect the accomplishments of prisoners and follow-up with achieving the prisoners’ demands, as has been agreed” with Israeli officials.

Qaraqe said that the strike was an important turning point in the lives of Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinian people, and that “all must invest in its results legally, politically and nationally.”

According to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, 6,300 Palestinians were held in Israeli prisons as of April, most of whom are being held inside the Israeli territory in contravention to international law which forbids holding Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza outside the occupied territory.

While Israeli authorities label Palestinians as “security prisoners,” activists and rights groups have long considered Palestinians held in Israeli custody as political prisoners, and have routinely condemned Israel’s use of prison as a means of dislocating Palestinian political and social life in the occupied territory.

Addameer has reported that 40 percent of the male Palestinian population has been detained by Israeli authorities at some point in their lives.

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