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Mass hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners ends, says Israel

Hundreds of Palestinian inmates have ended a 40-day hunger strike after reaching a compromise over better conditions, Israel's prison service has said.

Prison service spokeswoman Nicole Englander said the inmates declared an end to the fast on Saturday morning.

She said it came after Israel reached a compromise with the Palestinian Authority and the Red Cross for prisoners to receive a second family visit each per month.

Hundreds of prisoners observed the strike which they said was aimed at improving jail conditions.

The hunger strike had evolved into one of the longest such protests involving so many participants since Israel's 1967 capture of territories Palestinians seek for their state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. More than 1,000 prisoners began the hunger strike and 834 ended their fast on Saturday.

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 hits the 50-year mark in early June.

Support for the prisoners is an emotional consensus issue; hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been jailed by Israel at one time or another since 1967.

Israel's public security minister, Gilad Erdan, alleged that the hunger strike was motivated by a power struggle in Mr Abbas's Fatah movement.

He claimed that jailed strike organiser Marwan Barghouti cynically exploited his fellow prisoners to boost his standing in Fatah and secure his position as a possible successor to Mr 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 has never mounted a defence, saying the court had no jurisdiction over him.

Earlier this month, Israel released footage it said shows Barghouti breaking his fast. Palestinians say the video is a fabrication.

AP

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