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Palestinian prisoner ends hunger strike after making deal with Israeli authorities

Posted November 8, 2020 6:28 a.m. EST

— A Palestinian detainee held by Israel has ended a hunger strike lasting more than 100 days, after Israeli authorities agreed he would be freed at the end of the month and his administrative detention order would not be renewed, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club, a Ramallah-based non-governmental organization that looks after the interests of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Speaking to CNN, Maher Al-Akhras, a 49-year old farmer from Silat Al Dhaher in the north of the West Bank, said he had achieved "a victory for all the Palestinian people, not just for me."

An Israeli security official confirmed to CNN that Al-Akhras had ended his hunger strike and would be released on November 26 but would not comment on whether any particular commitments had been made.

Al-Akhras told CNN he began his action in July in an effort to highlight Israel's use of administrative detention, which allows authorities to detain people indefinitely -- without pressing charges or presenting evidence -- if they believe there is an imminent security threat.

"The issue of administrative detention has been opened up again, with so many question marks," Al-Akhras told CNN. "The strength I have had all this time came from the support I received from people outside who were demanding justice."

Israel's internal security agency, Shin Bet, says Al-Akhras is a "prominent operative" of the Islamic Jihad militant group. It said it arrested him on July 27 "following intelligence indicating he was ... involved in activities endangering public safety." Al-Akhras told CNN the allegation was untrue.

His wife Taghreed said the hunger strike had taken a severe toll on her husband and the rest of the family.

"He suffers from a very weak heart and has a difficulty of breathing. He can't move or stand up," she told CNN.

"Our six-year-old daughter Tuqa was asking why he was arrested. She could not wait to see her father, she came home [from visiting him] in a very difficult emotional state."

Al-Akhras, who has been in hospital for weeks due to the effects of the hunger strike, will see out the remainder of his detention receiving medical treatment, according to both the Palestinian Prisoners Club and the Israeli security official speaking to CNN.

The case received attention from the United Nations and the European Union, among other institutions.

The UN's Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov told the UN Security Council in October he was "deeply concerned" at Al Akhras's deteriorating. And the European Union, in a statement, wrote, "Regardless of the allegations against Mr. Al-Akhras, the European Union reiterates its long-standing concerns about the extensive use by Israel of administrative detention without formal charges."

Israel's Foreign Ministry responded angrily to the EU statement, saying that hunger strikes were being used "as a political tool by terrorists and by terrorist organizations."

"The 'Palestinian Islamic Jihad' is a terrorist organization recognized by the EU. It is extremely disappointing that the EU supports such a campaign," the statement said.

According to B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, some 355 Palestinians, among them two minors, were being held in administrative detention in Israel Prison Service facilities as of August.

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