Israel cancels Palestinian prisoner release
Published Friday, March 28, 2014
Updated at 5:40 pm: Israel has told the Palestinians it will not be making the fourth release of prisoners they had been expecting alongside US-brokered peace talks, a senior Palestinian official said Friday.
"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.
Israeli officials had no immediate comment.
Under the US-brokered deal relaunching the peace 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 but members of the cabinet said they would block the final release, anticipated for the end of March, if the Palestinians refused to extend talks beyond their April 29 deadline.
The Israeli ministers said the releases had always been conditional on progress in the talks, which had failed to materialize.
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 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.
Meanwhile, EU diplomats are warning of a "significant risk" of regional upheaval and the "derailment of peace talks" due to increasing tension over the 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.
According to Israeli law, Jews are not allowed to pray at the site and although non-Muslim visitors are permitted, recent high-profile visits by right-wing Israeli politicians and nearby archeological excavations have stoked tensions.
"Ambassador [Martin] Indyk and Secretary Kerry are still working intensively with the parties on these issues," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told journalists covering a visit to Saudi Arabia by Kerry and President Barack Obama.
Israeli media say Netanyahu could give a green light to the prisoner release if the US frees Jonathan Pollard, who was arrested in Washington in 1985 and condemned to life imprisonment for spying on the United States for Israel.