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Prisoners end hunger strike

Dozens of Palestinian prisoners on Wednesday ended their 63-day-long hunger strike after reaching a deal with Israeli prison authorities, a Palestinian official said.

The development comes against the backdrop of a broad Israeli ground operation in the West Bank in search of three Israeli teens who went missing in the Palestinian territory nearly two weeks ago. There have also been near-daily rocket attacks from Gaza, prompting Israeli airstrikes in retaliation.

Earlier Wednesday, a rocket fired by Palestinian militants toward Israel exploded in the northern Gaza Strip, killing a 3-year-old Palestinian girl and wounding three other people, a Gaza health official said.

A Gaza security official said the militants' rocket exploded prematurely inside the coastal strip. Both Palestinian officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.

Since 2012, Palestinian prisoners have staged a series of hunger strikes, sometimes as individuals and sometimes in larger groups to protest "administrative detention," a policy that can keep some prisoners in custody for months without charges.

Israel has defended the practice as a necessary tool to stop militant activity, including attacks.

About 5,000 Palestinians are imprisoned in Israel for offences ranging from rock throwing to deadly militant attacks. Of those, some 190 are administrative detainees, while another 143 Palestinians detained in recent raids have also been held under the policy.

The latest hunger strike was launched April 24 and involved 77 prisoners, according to Qadoura Fares, an advocate for Palestinian prisoners. It ended Wednesday after the deal was struck with Israel Prisons Authority, said Minister of Prisoner Affairs Shawqi Al-Aissa.

The three Israeli teens — Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship — disappeared on June 12 in the West Bank.

Since then, the territory has seen a spike in violence. Israel has accused the militant Palestinian Hamas group, which controls Gaza, of being behind the abduction. Hamas has praised the kidnapping, but has not taken responsibility for it.

The Israeli military said troops arrested 17 Palestinians in the West Bank overnight. It also said that since the operation to locate the teens and crackdown on Hamas began, about 370 Palestinian suspects have been arrested, including about 280 Hamas members.

In a related development, Israel's parliament earlier this week postponed a vote on a bill that would allow force feeding prisoners. Last week, Leonid Eidelman, the president of the Israeli Medical Association, told The Associated Press that Israeli doctors would "absolutely refuse" on ethical grounds to force-feed hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners.

The Canadian Press

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