PLO: Israel 'no' on prisoners 'slap in face' to peace
Published Friday 28/03/2014 (updated) 18/04/2014 17:39
Relatives of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons hold
portraits of their loved-ones in the West Bank city of Ramallah
on March 27, 2014.(AFP/File Abbas Momani)
RAMALLAH (AFP) -- Israel's refusal to free a final group of Palestinian prisoners Saturday is another obstacle to US efforts to broker peace, a senior official in President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party said.
Under the deal which relaunched the talks in July, Israel said it would release 104 Palestinians held since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords in exchange for the Palestinians not pressing their statehood claims at the United Nations.
Israel has so far freed 78 prisoners in three batches but cabinet members had warned they would block the final release, anticipated for the end of March, if the Palestinians refused to extend the talks beyond their April 29 deadline.
"The Israeli government has informed us through the American mediator that it will not abide with its commitment to release the fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday 29," Jibril Rajub told AFP.
"Israel has refused to commit to the names that were agreed upon of prisoners held by Israel since before the 1993 Oslo agreements," Rajub said.
Fatah official Hazem Abu Shanab said the release of the final group of Palestinian prisoners would be pivotal in determining the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations, noting that the international community will be inclined to hold Israel responsible for hindering the peace process.
"The release of prisoners is a legitimate, lawful, and human right. Their freedom should not be linked to concessions regarding extending or continuing the diplomatic process," he told Ma'an.
Israeli officials had no immediate comment.
But Israeli ministers have said previously that the prisoner releases were always conditional on progress in the talks, which had failed to materialize.
Many also baulked at the inclusion of Palestinian citizens of Israel among the prisoners slated for release.
Rajub called the Israeli move a "slap in the face of the US administration and its efforts," and said the Palestinians would resume their international diplomatic offensive.
"Not releasing the prisoners will mark the beginning of the efforts in the international community to challenge the legality of the occupation," he said.
The talks have been teetering on the brink of collapse, with Washington fighting an uphill battle to get the two sides to agree to a framework for continued negotiations until the end of the year.
US Secretary of State John Kerry met Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Amman on Wednesday in a bid to salvage the talks, with US special envoy Martin Indyk meeting the Palestinian leader in Ramallah on Thursday.
Meanwhile, EU diplomats are warning of a "significant risk" of regional upheaval and the "derailment of peace talks" due to increasing tension over the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, venerated by Jews and Muslims, AFP has learned.
"There remains a significant risk that incidents at this highly sensitive site, or perceived threats to the status quo, may spark extreme reactions locally as well as across the Arab and Muslim world, and have the potential to derail the peace negotiations," they quoted a joint report by heads of missions as saying.
Israel's government has announced the construction of thousands of settler housing units and its army has killed 60 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza since the talks began.
The Israeli government has also insisted that it maintain a military and civilian presence in the occupied Jordan Valley, which forms around a third of the West Bank, and has insisted that the PLO recognize it as a "Jewish state," despite having already officially recognized Israel decades earlier.
Ma'an staff contributed to this report