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Abbas 'exerting all efforts' to negotiate prisoner release

March 30, 2014 11:37 A.M. (Updated: April 1, 2014 11:34 A.M.)
JERICHO (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas has been exerting all efforts to negotiate the release of the fourth group of Palestinian veteran prisoners, a PLO official said Sunday.

Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement that Israel "must release the fourth batch" of prisoners, held in Israeli jails since before the 1993 Oslo Accords.

The deal at the beginning of the negotiations was for Israel to release 104 veteran prisoners in exchange for the PLO's pledge not to attempt a statehood bid at the UN or other international bodies, Erekat reiterated.

He said the PLO was involved in "sensitive talks" with the US and the Israel, but that he could not reveal details to the media.

Israel was scheduled to release the final group of prisoners on Saturday, but did not.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that debate with the PLO over the prisoner release could go on for "a number of days," the Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post reported on its website.

Netanyahu said at a meeting with members of his right-wing Likud party that prisoners would not be freed "without a clear benefit for Israel in return," the report said.

So far, 78 of a total of 104 veteran Palestinian prisoners have been freed in three separate tranches.

Continued 'Jewish state' impasse

Separately, on Saturday, the London-based Arabic-language newspaper al-Hayat quoted western diplomats as saying that US Secretary of State John Kerry was trying to overcome the impasse over the recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state."

According to the report, Kerry suggested changing the language to "the homeland of the Jewish people." In exchange, the Palestinians would have to agree to establish a capital in only a part of East Jerusalem, not all of it.

The report said the PLO had rejected the proposal.

The PLO recognized Israel's right to exist in 1988, but says that recognizing Israel as a "Jewish state" could jeopardize the right of return for Palestinian refugees and limit the rights of Palestinians living in Israel.

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 negotiations began.
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