Abbas: Peace deal must free all prisoners
Published Wednesday 30/10/2013 (updated) 30/10/2013 17:48
President Abbas greeted the former prisoners in Ramallah.
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas greeted 21 freed prisoners in a ceremony in Ramallah after midnight Wednesday, telling them the PLO would never sign a peace deal with Israel unless it secured every Palestinian's freedom.
"An agreement will never be signed without freeing all prisoners," Abbas said.
"We congratulate and greet our brothers who arrived from behind bars to the world of freedom. We welcome them and congratulate ourselves for this great reunion. We affirm that we had said 'let them return to their homes and not anywhere else,'" Abbas said.
The release of the 26 prisoners was part of a four-stage deal to coincide with the PLO's return to peace negotiations in July.
All 26 were convicted of killing Israelis, with most of the attacks occurring before the 1993 Oslo Accords. A first group of 26 prisoners was freed on Aug. 13.
"Today is the second joy, and in two months, there is a third, a fourth and a fifth until jails are cleared and they all come back," he said.
But he added that "our joy remains incomplete until all prisoners are freed."
The president also denied reports that the release was part of a deal that would let Israel continue building settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
"There are some unpatriotic people who claim we made this deal in return for not stopping settlement expansion, but down with them," he said.
Media reports suggest Israel is planning to announce the construction of 1,500 new housing units in the coming days, up to two thirds of them in annexed East Jerusalem.
In Israel, the move to release the second group has sparked tensions within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, and around 2,000 Israelis rallied outside Ofer prison on Monday chanting "Death to terrorists!" and raising placards reading: "Are we crazy? We're releasing murderers."
Among the demonstrators was Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a hardliner from the far-right nationalist Jewish Home party, who vowed to ramp up settlement construction in response to the release.
There are still 5,007 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, including 137 administrative detainees, 12 women and 180 children, according to prisoners support group Addameer.
Correction: This version corrects an editing error which attributed some quotes by President Mahmoud Abbas to Issa Qaraqe, his prisoners minister.