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Netanyahu: Will free 104 Palestinians in peace talks

July 27, 2013 10:23 P.M. (Updated: July 29, 2013 11:34 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that Israel will free 104 Palestinian prisoners to coincide with the resumption of long-stalled peace talks brokered by the United States.

"I agreed to free 104 Palestinians in stages, after the start of negotiations and according to progress," he wrote on his official Facebook page.

He did not give details on those to be freed or confirm reports that talks would open in Washington on Tuesday.

A Palestinian official earlier told AFP that the Washington meeting would be attended by chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erakat, his Israeli counterpart Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and US officials.

The sides are expected to meet for an informal dinner on Monday evening, on the eve, he said.

Israel's Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom said this week that talks could resume next Tuesday, but neither the date nor venue have so far been confirmed.

"At this time, it seems most important to me that the state of Israel enter (negotiations)," Netanyahu wrote.

"This is important both to maximize the possibility of ending the conflict with the Palestinians and to solidify Israel's position in the complex international reality surrounding us," he added, writing in Hebrew.

Haaretz newspaper said the initial talks would be to lay the parameters of formal negotiations.

"According to senior officials in Jerusalem, the meeting in Washington is expected to deal primarily with the agenda for holding negotiations, including the subjects to be discussed and the timetable," according to Haaretz.

Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting will hear a formal statement from Netanyahu on the resumption of peace talks and mandate a ministerial committee to handle the prisoner release, the government website said.

Israeli news website Ynet said Netanyahu would head the prisoner committee deciding which prisoners are to be freed and when.

The cabinet is also set to endorse a draft bill to submit any peace treaty with the Palestinians to a referendum.

Such a vote would be a final endorsement of a treaty after ratification by the government and parliament.

A briefing paper published by the cabinet office said the proposal comes "in light of the significant diplomatic developments accompanying the opening of negotiations by the state of Israel with the Palestinian Authority".

The draft is seen as a gesture to right-wing ministers apprehensive of concessions that could be demanded of Israel in the talks.

The cabinet paper said the government saw approval of the new draft as "urgent and important" and said it would be asking parliament to streamline its passage into law.

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