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Abbas says freeing of prisoners Palestinian priority

April 4, 2013 10:57 A.M. (Updated: April 6, 2013 4:39 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (AFP) -- President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday said the freeing of prisoners held by Israel was a "priority" for the leadership in the West Bank.

"The Palestinian leadership gives priority to the prisoners issue and ending their suffering," Abbas said in a speech to a meeting of his Fatah party in Ramallah.

"We cannot be silent about their staying behind bars... (we) have demanded the freeing of all prisoners, especially those arrested before the Oslo accords, and sick, child and women prisoners," he said.

"But the Israeli government, in its arrogance, doesn't care" about the detainees, he added.

The speech came after thousands of West Bank Palestinians lined the streets for the funeral of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh, a prisoner who had served 10 years of a life sentence for attempted murder and died in an Israeli hospital after being diagnosed with throat cancer.

The Palestinian leadership has accused Israel of medical negligence, despite moves by the prison service to secure his early release on compassionate grounds.

Abbas said that in light of "the achievements in the UN" -- a reference to upgraded Palestinian status at the UN late last year that angered Israel -- the leadership would "go to the ends of the earth to protect our prisoners".

The Palestinian Authority head also slammed Israeli settlement building in Palestinian territories, in reference to a recent visit by US President Barack Obama to the region.

"Obama's visit to Palestine was positive. We presented our stance on the peace process... and explained the dangers to the two-state solution posed by continued settlement building."

Obama visited Israel and the West Bank in mid-March, with Secretary of State John Kerry then meeting separately with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas.

In a surprise move, the State Department announced Wednesday that Kerry would return to Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories early next week to build on talks and try to restart a stalled peace process.

Peace talks have been stalled since September 2010, with Palestinians demanding Israel stop building settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem before a resumption of negotiations, and Israel rejecting any pre-conditions to talks.
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