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'Deal To End Palestinian Hunger Strike'
Some 2,000 Palestinian prisoners are set to end their mass hunger strike after the Israeli authorities pledged to improve their conditions.
The deal was struck as the International Red Cross warned that several of the inmates were close to death and urged Israel to transfer them to hospital for emergency treatment.
Most of the prisoners have been refusing food since April 17 but several have been on hunger strike for 77 days.
The Palestinian minister for prisoner affairs, Issa Qaraqe, said Palestinian prisoner leaders signed the deal at an Israeli jail in Ashkelon.
Israel's Shin Bet security agency and Palestinian militant groups confirmed the deal, which was brokered by Egyptian mediators.
The protest was sparked by growing anger at Israel's policy of "administrative detention", where prisoners can be held for months - sometimes years - without being charged or facing trial.
There are currently 308 administrative detainees in Israeli jails, but most of the more than 4,000 Palestinian prisoners have been convicted of terrorist related crimes.
The inmates were also demanding more access for relatives to visit them and an end to prolonged periods in solitary confinement.
The deal was brokered after there were apparently concessions on three main points.
Prisoners from both the West Bank and Gaza are to be allowed more family visits, and those inmates in long periods of solitary confinement will be allowed back among the general population.
And it appears that some of the hunger strikers who are administrative detainees are going to be released at the end of their initial terms.
The agreement was proposed by the Israeli prison authorities amid growing concern that the deaths of any of the prisoners would trigger anger and violence in the Palestinian territories.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had warned Israel that he would not be able to contain the outcry that would follow.
The United Nations and Tony Blair, in his role as Middle East envoy, had also urged a swift solution to the crisis.
Two of the prisoners who are said to be close to death after refusing food since March, Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Diab, are alleged to be members of Islamic Jihad, a militant group that has carried out numerous attacks against Israeli civilians.
They are both being held without charge. Israel said the system of administrative detention was necessary for security reasons and to protect its network of informants in the West Bank.
But several Israeli human rights organisations joined the Palestinian authorities in condemning the use of detention without trial.
The Israeli prison service said the hunger strikers have been under constant medical supervision, but they have been given only limited access to independent doctors.
Dr Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian legislator, said that if the deal holds it is proof of the power of "non violent resistance".
The Palestinians were inspired by the IRA hunger strikers, including Bobby Sands who died in 1981 after 66 days without food.
One of the survivors of that protest, Laurence McKewan who joined an Irish hunger strike for 70 days sent a message of support to the Palestinian prisoners.