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Political detainees 'to be freed in one week'

Jan. 8, 2012 1:10 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 15, 2012 9:47 P.M.)
Correction appended

GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- A reconciliation committee has agreed that all political detainees will be released on Jan. 15, Islamic Jihad committee member Khalid Al-Batsh told Ma'an.

The public freedoms committee, one of the cross-party bodies tasked with overseeing the implementation of a reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, has set next Sunday for a number of practical measures agreed by the sides.

Senior Jihad official Al-Batsh told Ma'an the date would be the real test of both sides' will to end the rivalry and implement the deal, agreed in May 2011 but since stalled as the former rivals sparred over its implementation.

Several oversight bodies were set up after Fatah leader President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Khalid Mashaal met in Cairo on Nov. 24, in a fresh attempt to breathe life into the deal.

Another key demand of the former rival parties will be completed on Jan. 15, Al-Batsh said, when banned newspapers will freely circulate in Gaza and the West Bank.

Palestinian dailies Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Al-Quds and Al-Ayyam will reach the Gaza Strip, while Al-Istiqlal, Al-Risalah and Falastin will be distributed in the West Bank, for the first time since the 2007 schism divided the governments in two, sparking a crackdown on media, activists, and associations suspected of affiliation to the rival faction.

Both sides accuse the other of detaining hundreds of political activists in their territory, and the release of political detainees has been a key factor in the deal to end the infighting and prepare the ground for fresh elections.

The number detained for their political affiliation is highly disputed, but the Independent Commission for Human Rights says it received 197 complaints against West Bank security forces concerning political arrests in December, and 76 complaints of political detention in the Gaza Strip.

Al-Batsh confirmed a statement by Palestinian National Initiative leader Mustafa Barghouti on Saturday that the committee had resolved the unfair assignment of passports to Gaza Strip residents, another issue the reconciliation deal was tasked with settling.

"We have been informed that President Mahmoud Abbas has instructed the concerned authorities to issue a Palestinian passport for each citizen who is entitled to obtain one," Al-Batsh said.

The Islamic Jihad leader said the committee was ready to appeal to higher authorities if the parties fail to implement the terms as agreed.

"In case of lack of commitment to what has been agreed on, the committee will turn to the temporary leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization PLO, and to Egypt as the sponsor of Palestinian reconciliation," he said.

(Khalid al-Batsh represents Islamic Jihad on the committee, not Hamas as originally stated.)
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