JERUSALEM (AP) — A Palestinian prisoner who refused food for months is expected to end his hunger strike on Tuesday after a deal was reached with Israeli authorities for his early release, his lawyer said.
Samer Issawi began refusing food in August to protest his re-arrest. His strike became a rallying cry for Palestinians who protested, sometimes violently, on his behalf, seeing the 33-year-old from Jerusalem as a symbol of their struggle. Israel was worried there would be wide unrest if anything happened to Issawi.
The prisoner issue is one of the most sensitive for Palestinians, many of whom have had a loved one behind bars. There are some 4,500 Palestinians in Israel jails for sentences ranging from throwing stones to killing civilians in deadly attacks.
Palestinians widely see the prisoners as heroes in the struggle for statehood while Israelis view them as terrorists.
Attorney Jawad Bulous said Israeli military prosecutors agreed on early Tuesday to release Issawi after he serves another eight months in prison, which would mean he would be released later this year. The lawyer said he expected the deal to be signed later in the day, after which Issawi will end his hunger strike.
In 2002, Issawi was sentenced to 26 years in prison for his role in a series of shooting attacks targeting police cars and students at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
He was released from prison as part of a 2011 deal that freed hundreds of Palestinians — many of them militants involved in deadly attacks — in exchange for the release of an Israeli soldier held in Gaza. But soon after that, Issawi violated the conditions of his release and was arrested again.
Issawi had been hospitalized in recent weeks as his weight plummeted and his health deteriorated. To pressure Israeli authorities to come to a deal, Issawi gambled with his life, refusing infusions of vitamins and minerals, leading doctors to warn he was at risk of death, his attorney said.
“No doubt, this is a big victory for Samer,” Bulous said. The hunger strike “forced the Israeli side to reverse their position.”
Ayman Sharawneh, another Palestinian prisoner who was rearrested for violating his release conditions last year, went on a hunger strike until he was released in March in a deal that saw him exiled to Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Sharawneh was arrested in 2002 for his involvement in a bombing in the southern Israeli town of Beersheba that injured 18 civilians, the attempted kidnapping of a soldier, and shooting at soldiers.