Palestinian man to end hunger strike after Israel agrees to release

A Palestinian man on a hunger strike in protest against detention without charge has agreed to end his fast after a deal was struck for his release owing to fears of unrest if he died.

Hisham Abu Hawash, 40, a construction worker from Dura in the West Bank, had previously served time in an Israeli jail after pleading guilty to terrorism offences related to membership of Islamic Jihad. He was rearrested and has been held without charge or trial for more than a year, and began refusing food in August.

His lawyer said on Tuesday night that Abu Hawash had agreed to end the 141-day strike – believed to be the longest by a Palestinian prisoner since 2013 – after a deal was reached between Israeli and Palestinian Authority (PA) officials to release him next month.

A medical team from the International Committee of the Red Cross that visited the prisoner last week said he was in “critical condition”, warning of “potentially irreversible health consequences and possible tragic loss of life”.

The deal comes amid mounting support for Abu Hawash in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the form of street demonstrations, along with a widespread campaign for his release on social media, where pictures of the gaunt prisoner lying in a hospital bed have circulated widely. Islamic Jihad, the second-largest militant group in Gaza, had threatened revenge if he died in custody, and Hamas called the issue a “red line”.

The married father of five, who denies being a member of Islamic Jihad, is being held under Israel’s practice of administrative detention, which allows suspects’ arrest for renewable six-month terms without charge or access to the evidence against them.

Israel says the measure – which is also practised by the PA – is necessary for foiling terrorist attacks and to avoid revealing sensitive intelligence sources. Rights groups allege it is used excessively and routinely by Israeli authorities and denies individuals the right to due process.

Abu Hawash’s release date of 26 February will mark the end of his current six-month detention period, a compromise struck with PA officials that allowed Israel to claim it had decided not to renew his detention, rather than shorten it. In return, the PA agreed to ensure the prisoner “will not return to terrorism”.

After accepting the terms of the deal, Abu Hawash, who had begun to lose consciousness for long periods of time, broke his fast on Tuesday night with a few sips of tea.

He had previously refused all medical intervention and stopped consuming small amounts of sugar and salt six weeks ago. He was transferred to an Israeli civilian hospital on 26 December and will remain there under armed guard until his release.

The news was met with celebrations across the Palestinian territories on Tuesday night, while the Prisoners’ Club, which represents former and current Palestinian prisoners, hailed the strike as a victory. It said Abu Hawash had previously spent eight years in Israeli prisons, more than half of it in administrative detention.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are subject to Israeli military courts, while Jewish settlers in the territory answer to the civilian justice system.

According to the Palestinian rights group Addameer, 500 Palestinians are currently being held under the measure.