GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A hunger striking Palestinian prisoner has agreed to end his fast under a plea bargain that will confine him to the Gaza Strip for the next 10 years, his lawyer and family said Sunday.
Ayman Sharawneh, 53, had been refusing food since last July to protest his incarceration. His lawyer, Jawad Bulous, said Sharawneh, a resident of the West Bank, accepted the offer of confinement to Gaza, fearing he would be sent to prison for decades in a military court hearing set for Monday.
Sharawneh was serving a 38-year prison sentence for participating in militant attacks. He was one about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners freed in 2011 in exchange for an Israeli soldier held for five years by Hamas militants in Gaza. In one of his attacks, he detonated an explosives-filled handbag in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, wounding more than a dozen people. He was also involved in a kidnapping attempt, according to Israel's Shin Bet security service.
He was arrested again in January 2012, accused of violating the terms of his release by making contact with Hamas.
Sharawneh began his hunger strike in July but halted for a month, believing he would be released.
His confinement to Gaza means he will be cut off from his family. It is difficult for Palestinians in the West Bank to obtain permission from Israeli military authorities to cross Israel to enter Gaza. The West Bank flanks Israel's east, while the Gaza Strip, ruled by the Islamic militant Hamas, borders Israel in the southwest.
Even so, Sharawneh's mother said she was pleased. "It doesn't matter if he goes to Gaza. To be freed is the most important thing," said Zahra Sharawneh, 60. "I hope the people of Gaza greet him and give him the care that he needs."
She said her son had lost around half his weight and could not move one of his legs.
The Shin Bet said in a statement Sunday that he can leave Gaza after the 10-year period "if he hasn't returned to terror activity."
Sharawneh is one of four Palestinian prisoners who have been on a long-term hunger strike.
Another, Samer Issawi, has been on a hunger strike for over seven months. He began refusing food in August, when he was detained. He has taken nutrients in a hospital drip from time to time to stay alive, although his health condition is considered grave.
Issawi was sentenced to 26 years prison for his involvement in a series of shooting attacks at Israeli police cars and students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Issawi was also freed as part of the 2011 prisoner exchange and was arrested for violating his release conditions.
The two other hunger strikers, Tarek Qaadan and Jafar Ezzeldeen, are in administrative detention, a system where prisoners can be held without being charged indefinitely, in three-month renewable periods. They began refusing food when they were detained over four months ago.
Israeli security officials suspect the men are members of the violent Palestinian group Islamic Jihad and were overseeing militant activity, but neither has been charged.
About 4,000 Palestinians are in Israeli prisoners for crimes ranging from throwing rocks at soldiers to deadly militant attacks. Palestinians see them as fighting for their national liberation, while Israelis widely regard them as terrorists.
West Bank protests demanding their release have repeatedly turned violent in recent weeks.