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Qaraqe: Prisoners to protest if Israel does not release fourth group

March 27, 2014 8:48 P.M. (Updated: March 29, 2014 12:26 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Palestinian prisoners have said they will protest if Israel does not release the fourth group of veteran prisoners, the Palestinian Authority minister of prisoners' affairs said on Thursday.

Issa Qaraqe said in a statement that a group of prisoners had confirmed their support for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his persistence on releasing the fourth group of veteran prisoners. The statement insisted that the release was crucial for any future progress in the peace talks and serves as a test of Israel's reliability in the peace process.

"Israel has been playing an ugly game of blackmail ... using Palestinian prisoners as a pressure tool to obtain political gains, which we completely reject," Qaraqe said.

He added that if Israel does not release all prisoners included in the agreed list and on time, the Palestinian Authority would have no choice but to officially join international organizations, conventions and treaties, particularly the Geneva Convention in protest.

Qaraqe said that he holds Israel responsible for the consequences of not releasing the prisoners on time, warning of the "anger" in the Palestinian street.

Israel has released three groups of veteran prisoners as part of a trust-building measure in ongoing peace talks, and are due to release a fourth group in April.

However, Israeli officials have hinted that release of the fourth group might be conditional on Abbas agreeing to extend talks, which he has so far refused to do because of a lack of progress.

Peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians were relaunched in July under the auspices of the US after nearly three years of impasse.

Israel's government has announced the construction of thousands of settler housing units and its army has killed 60 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza since the talks began.
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