JERUSALEM – A Palestinian prisoner agreed to end his 66-day hunger strike to protest his imprisonment without charge after reaching a deal with Israel that will free him in April, the Israeli Justice Ministry said Tuesday.
The agreement ended a tense standoff that left 33-year-old Khader Adnan clinging to life and drew international attention to a controversial Israeli policy of holding suspected Palestinian militants without charge. The hunger strike also turned Adnan, a member of the Islamic Jihad militant group, into a hero for Palestinians.
Under the deal struck with military prosecutors, Adnan agreed to resume eating immediately, the Justice Ministry said.
Outside the Jerusalem high court, some two dozen demonstrators waved the Palestinian flag. "Khader is coming home!" they chanted.
Adnan was a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, a group that has killed dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks. It is not known whether he participated in violent acts.
The statement said that if "no new additional substantial evidence" emerges against Adnan, he will be released on April 17.
That means his four-month detention order will be counted from the day of his arrest, not the day it was issued several weeks later. The deal also suggests that military prosecutors will not seek extensions, which can often be used to prolongue administrative detentions.
The Justice Ministry said Adnan, who remains hospitalized, accepted the deal through his attorney.
The deal was swiftly denounced by Israel's hardline foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.
"It was a wrong decision to release the Jihad activist. But it is our duty to respect and honor every Supreme Court decision even when we don't agree with it," he said.
Adnan's lawyers said the deal would set a precedent for other Palestinian prisoners -- that they too, could force Israel to listen to their demands.
"Sheikh Khader is an example for Palestinians," said one of his lawyers, Mahmoud Hassan. "He showed that their demands can be met."
Tuesday's compromise was announced shortly before the Israeli Supreme Court was to hold an emergency hearing on Adnan's appeal. The court moved the hearing up by two days, over concerns about Adnan's health. He has been held in an Israeli hospital for several weeks because of his condition.
Adnan's supporters and physicians said in recent days that he couldn't survive much longer on his hunger strike. Doctors who treated him said he lost some 60 pounds, his hair was falling out, his skin had turned yellow and that he was in danger of a heart attack.
Adnan's wife, Randa, was ecstatic over the news.
"The Israelis had no proof and that's why they've agreed to these four months," she said in a telephone interview. "He's shown by his steadfastness that we can be victorious."
She laughed, and supporters could be heard ululating with joy in the background.
Adnan was arrested from his West Bank home on Dec. 17 and launched his hunger strike the following day.
He said he was protesting Israel's policy of "administrative detentions," in which it holds suspected Palestinian militants for months and even years at a time without charge. Adnan also claimed to have been beaten and humiliated in prison.
Israel has said Adnan was suspected of acts that "threaten regional security" without elaborating. It has not responded to the abuse allegations.
Israel has defended the policy of administrative detentions as a necessary tool to stop militant activity. It says the measure is needed to protect its network of Palestinian informants.
Adnan has been on three hunger strikes in the past. His sister Maali Musa said her brother undertook a 14-day hunger strike in 1999 after he was imprisoned by Palestinian authorities for hurling rotten eggs at officials during a demonstration.
He went without food for 28 days to protest his solitary confinement in 2005 when he was imprisoned by Israel. His sister said his strike forced Israeli authorities to return him to live with other prisoners.
He also undertook a 12-day hunger strike in 2010, again when he was arrested by the Palestinian Authority, which rules parts of the West Bank. Musa said her brother wasn't charged with anything, and was quickly released.
Adnan's latest protest was the longest hunger strike ever by a Palestinian prisoner, and had caused some unease in Israel. The European Union and United Nations had expressed concern over the case and urged Israel to promptly give Adnan a trial.
There are some 300 Palestinians in Israeli administrative detention. They are a fraction of the some 4,200 Palestinians held in Israel, many who are doing time for charges ranging from throwing stones at Israeli soldiers to killing Israeli civilians.
Palestinians venerate the prisoners, viewing them as freedom fighters.
The second longest hunger strike in Palestinian history was by a woman, Itaf Alayan who refused food for 43 days before she was released in 1997. She was also an administrative detainee.