PLO to lobby UN if prisoners not freed on time
Published Tuesday 25/03/2014 (updated) 28/03/2014 15:20
A girl from the occupied West Bank waves the national flag as she
and others wait close to the military prison of Ofer for the release of
prisoners on Aug. 13, 2013 (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
RAMALLAH (AFP) -- Palestinian leaders on Tuesday threatened to renew their diplomatic push at the United Nations if Israel fails to free Palestinian prisoners as scheduled this weekend.
When US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace resumed in July, President Mahmoud Abbas agreed that for their nine-month duration he would shelve efforts to use the UN's November 2012 recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer to press for membership in international bodies where it could fight Israeli occupation.
In exchange for the diplomatic ceasefire Israel was to release 104 Palestinians imprisoned since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords between the sides.
It has so far freed 78 with the final batch due for release on March 29.
"We shall turn to the UN's international organizations if Israel does not release the fourth and final group of prisoners," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee.
"The release of the prisoners is in return for the freeze on seeking membership in international organizations," he told official Voice of Palestine radio.
Israel wants the so-far inconclusive peace talks extended beyond their April 29 deadline and ministers have warned that should the Palestinians refuse, the remaining prisoners will not be freed.
"If Israel were to refuse to free the fourth batch it would have serious consequences, including initiatives at the United Nations," former Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayeh, said in a statement.
Israel particularly objects to the Palestinians' demand for Arab Israelis or Palestinian residents of Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem convicted of militant acts to be included in the release, even though both groups were included in a 2011 swap of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for captive soldier Gilad Shalit.
A senior Palestinian official told AFP on the condition of anonymity that in recent talks with US special envoy Martin Indyk, Abbas warned that if the April 29 talks deadline was not met "Israel would be in violation of agreements and (the Palestinians) would have the right to turn to the UN and to take any measures it deems necessary."