Palestinian prisoner ends 94-day hunger strike

DURA, West Bank (AP) — A Palestinian prisoner ended 94 days of his hunger strike on Friday after reaching a deal with Israeli authorities that says he will be released in three months’ time, his family said.

The 33-year-old Mohammed al-Qeq began his strike on Nov. 25 to win release from administrative detention, a practice that can keep some prisoners in custody without charges for an indefinite time. Israel says the tactic is an important security tool necessary to stop militant attacks, especially at a time of increased Palestinian violence.

Israel says al-Qeq — who has worked as a journalist for a Saudi media outlet and who also appeared as an analyst on channels connected to Hamas — has long been involved in activities linked to the violent Palestinian Islamic group. He has been under observation at an Israeli hospital and refused all treatment unless he is released.

Celebrations erupted in his village of Dura near Hebron in the West Bank on Friday after his imminent release was announced. A dozen women chanted songs in Arabic praising al-Qeq and Palestinian militant groups.

Some family members set off a small crate of firecrackers into the air. Al-Qeq’s wife addressed reporters from underneath a make-shift tent decorated with posters of al-Qeq and Palestinian flags.

Both his wife and Kadoura Fares, the head of the Palestinian prisoners club, told The Associated Press that al Qeq had been fasting for 94 days.

“I feel very happy that finally we’ll end this hunger strike with a very big victory for us and for him,” his wife Fayha said flanked by her son and daughter.

She said he ended his strike Friday and will be released on May 21st.

“He forced the Israeli forces to take this step and put an end for his administrative detention,” she said. “It was terrifying moments … these three months and I think that this victory will be, Inshallah, (God willing) a new beginning for our life.”

The Palestinian prisoners club said the deal stipulates that al-Qeq will continue to be treated at the Israeli hospital until his release.

Israel’s military said “following the end of Mohammed al-Qeq’s hunger strike, he will continue to remain in custody until May 21. On that date the situation will be examined to determine whether there is new information or security circumstances which require extending detention.”

The Palestinian government in the West Bank welcomed the deal.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat congratulated al-Qeq for his “victory over the warden, through his legendary steadfastness.” He said Israel “had bowed to the demands of the al-Qeq.”

Israel has arrested al-Qeq in the past for his activities with Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza and that is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Palestinian prisoners have used hunger strikes before to draw attention to their detention without trial or charges. Fearing that a fasting detainee’s death could spark more violence, Israel has at times acceded to hunger strikers’ demands.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, an advocacy group, said this week that al-Qeq has been on a hunger strike longer than any other Palestinian detainee or any of the participants in 1981 protest strikes by Irish Republican Army prisoners held by Britain in Northern Ireland.

Al-Qeq’s fate was raised in recent top-level meetings, including talks Sunday between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

The deal for his release comes as Israel struggles to combat five months of near-daily Palestinian attacks on civilians and security forces that have killed 28 Israelis, mostly in stabbings, shootings and attacks where Palestinians used vehicles as weapons to ram into Israelis. At the same time, at least 166 Palestinians were killed, most of them said by Israel to have been attackers. The rest died in clashes with troops.

Israel says the violence is fueled by a Palestinian campaign of lies and incitement, compounded on social media sites that glorify and encourage attacks. Palestinians say it stems from frustration at nearly five decades of Israeli rule and dwindling hopes for gaining independence.


Deitch reported from Jerusalem.