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Fatah official denies deal to free prisoners

April 14, 2011 1:50 P.M. (Updated: April 16, 2011 1:12 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas never promised to free 23 prisoners held despite a court ruling ordering their release, Fatah's top official in Ramallah said Thursday.

Raed Radwan told Ma’an the PA agreed only to respond to questions from the March 15 pro-unity movement, not free the prisoners whose names were revealed Tuesday.

Abbas met last Sunday with hunger-strikers demanding that the PA release 23 Palestinians held despite court rulings ordering their release. According to those present, Abbas instructed his top advisor Tayeb Abdul-Rahim to arrange the release.

Radwan said an investigation would be carried out and that "in the next 24 hours, PA security forces will hand over a list" which can then be compared to the one obtained by Ma'an.

The official said Abdul-Rahim was still following up with the issue as promised.

But he claims an initial check of the names on the list revealed that several prisoners had already been released, while others had voluntarily chosen to stay in custody as "protection from Israel."

Palestinian Authority jails "are empty of political detainees; those in prison broke the law and are being held for such violations as money laundering or acquiring weapons -- not for their political views," he said.

Radwan has not identified any of those prisoners he claims are now free.

Protesters say those on the list are bona fide political prisoners, held without charge. Several of them were jailed by military courts despite that the high court ruled their arrests illegal.

Radwan refuted that as well, saying Abbas stopped the use of military trials.

He also said that protesters misunderstood Abbas during their April 3 meeting with the president, adding that just because there was a meeting, it did not mean Abbas agreed to their demands. But "Abbas considers the protesters like his own family, and respects their demands," he said.

The strikers say Abbas explicitly promised to free the prisoners within 48 hours of the meeting.

On March 15, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of the West Bank and Gaza demanding an end to division between Fatah and Hamas via new elections for the Palestinian National Council.

Members of the March 15 movement have been on hunger strike since March 26.

They want Palestinian leaders to free all political prisoners and head back to reconciliation talks, ending once and for all the division which has split the West Bank and Gaza since 2007.

Radwan said he supported the protesters' call for unity, but not at any cost.

"The leadership should hear the people," he said. "The youth should continue their actions until the end of division ... but they should present solutions, not just problems."
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