By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel set new terms on Wednesday that might hasten the release of a Palestinian who is on a 65-day-old hunger strike against his detention without trial.
A Supreme Court ruling on Mohammed Allan's petition to be freed was anticipated later in the day and could hinge on an assessment of his mental capacities by doctors in an Israeli hospital where he is in critical condition.
The 31-year-old Islamic Jihad activist's case is being monitored closely by opposing sides in an Israeli-Palestinian conflict that could boil over in new violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and from the Gaza Strip if he dies.
Before Wednesday's court session got under way, Allan's lawyers said that in return for an end to the strike, Israel had pledged not to renew his six-month detention period, meaning he would go free on Nov. 3.
The hospital said Allan's condition had deteriorated since he was brought out of sedation on Tuesday. His attorneys said he did not respond to the proposal, in which Israel dropped a demand that he agree to be exiled for four years in exchange for his release, an offer he had previously rejected.
In court, a government lawyer said Israel was prepared to free Allan immediately if a scan carried out while court was in session showed that he had suffered irreversible brain damage and subsequently no longer posed a security threat.
But the scan results were not conclusive. Barzilai hospital chief Chezy Levy told reporters it showed some brain damage and it was not yet clear whether it was "completely reversible". He said it was possible Allan would recover.
On Tuesday Allan instructed medical staff to halt intravenous treatment, but then agreed vitamins could be administered in the run-up to the court hearing.
Allan had told doctors that unless a solution was found to his plight within 24 hours "he would stop taking anything including vitamins and water," one of his lawyers said.
The Israeli government sees his hunger strike as a powerful challenge against "administrative detention", a practice that has drawn criticism from Palestinians and human rights groups but which Israel calls necessary for its national security.
It fears his unconditional release would only encourage some 370 other Palestinian detainees held without charge to refuse food.
Allan's case was originally seen as a possible test of Israel's new force-feeding law, which the country's medical association has condemned as a violation of ethics and international conventions. But doctors have said that option is no longer viable due to his grave condition.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich)