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Minister: Abbas refused Israeli offer of selective prisoner release

July 9, 2012 12:29 P.M. (Updated: July 10, 2012 4:25 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinian Authority Prisoners Minister Issa Qaraqe said Monday that President Mahmoud Abbas refused an Israeli offer for the staged release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for returning to peace talks.

Abbas insists that all 123 prisoners held since before the 1994 Oslo agreement be freed in a single release, Qaraqe said.

Israeli daily Haaretz reported earlier Monday that Israel offered to release some 25 Palestinian prisoners convicted of the murder of Israelis, followed by another 100 prisoners by the end of the year.

Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu would authorize the gesture during or after a direct meeting with Abbas, not before, the report said.

Netanyahu's spokesman Ofer Gendelman denied the report of the prisoners offer.

Qaraqe said Abbas had turned down Israel's offer, and called on the Israeli government to implement a past agreement with Netanyahu's predecessor Ehud Olmert, who pledged the release of a large number of prisoners.

He said this deal was delayed until captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was freed, but since his release in October Israel has still not implemented the understandings with Olmert. Israel freed some 1,000 prisoners at the time, but Qaraqe differentiated between this exchange with Hamas and what had been earlier promised to Abbas.

Qaraqe also referenced the 1999 Sinai agreement between former president Yasser Arafat and Israeli premier Ehud Barak, which included a provision to release pre-Oslo prisoners.

The minister added that the President was refusing the deportation of any freed prisoner. In the October Shalit exchange, some 40 detainees were deported to third countries and 163 to Gaza.

Abbas is raising the issue of releasing pre-Oslo prisoners at all high level meetings with the international community, the minister added.

A presidential spokesman said last month that Abbas will only meet with Netanyahu if Israel agrees to free seriously ill prisoners, and those detained prior to the Oslo accords.

Negotiations have been frozen since September 2010, when Netanyahu refused to extend a partial freeze on illegal settlement building.
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