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With Egypt's help, Israel strikes deal to end hunger strike

The deal to end a 77 day fast by Palestinian prisoners highlights ongoing trust between Israel and Egypt. 

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Palestinians wave flags as they celebrate the signing of a deal to end the Palestinian prisoners hunger strike, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 14.

Ammar Awad/Reuters

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Israel bowed to the demands of thousands of Palestinian prisoners who staged a weeks-long hunger strike to lobby for better jail conditions, with Egypt helping to mediate the breakthrough.

The deal will end a 77 day fast that had stoked local and international concern about the potential for Palestinian unrest if one of the hunger strikers had died. Some 2,000 prisoners had joined the fast in late April, encouraged by a hunger striking prisoner who won release from Israel in March. 

The involvement of Egypt’s intelligence service as a go-between highlights the ongoing trust with Israel even as uncertainty rises about the future of Israeli-Egyptian ties after the fall of Hosni Mubarak's regime and the strength of Islamist parties in subsequent elections. 

The Palestinians reached out to Egypt because a large chunk of the prisoners who are participating in the hunger strike are loyal to Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the Gaza Strip and does not have relations with Israel.

"[The Egyptians] were very helpful, they were the only mediators,” says Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian parliament member who confirmed reports about the deal being finalized. “They got involved at the request of many [Palestinian] political groups.”

Mr. Barghouti adds that Egyptian representatives travelled to an Israeli security prison in Ashkelon to seek the final approval of prison leaders of the various Palestinian political factions.

Late last year Egypt mediated a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel to free the Israeli soldier Sgt. Gilad Shalit after five years in captivity. Egypt has also been active in mediating cease-fires between the Islamic militants and Israel.

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