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Kerry phones Abbas to prevent talks collapse

April 2, 2014 8:54 P.M. (Updated: April 3, 2014 12:21 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday as peace talks appeared to have reached an impasse over Israel's refusal to free prisoners.

The two agreed to continue calls in the coming days, and Abbas emphasized that the Palestinians were committed to international resolutions to arrive at a just peace with Israel.

In the meantime, the Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams will meet on Wednesday evening with US special envoy Martin Indyk, a high-ranking source told Ma'an.

The Palestinian team consists of chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and head of Palestinian intelligence Majed Farraj, while the Israeli side is represented by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and negotiator Isaac Molho.

On Tuesday, Abbas said he had begun steps to join several UN agencies and ratify international treaties, angering Israel and prompting Kerry to cancel a trip to Ramallah.

The announcement was a blow to Kerry's frenetic efforts to resolve the dispute over Palestinian prisoners and find a way to extend the fragile peace talks beyond a looming April 29 deadline.

Israel says its release of each batch of prisoners was conditional on progress in negotiations.

Abbas has signed letters of accession for 15 international multilateral treaties and conventions which were then handed to the relevant agencies, officials said Tuesday.

"I presented the letters signed by Abbas this morning to UN special envoy Robert Serry, as well as to the representatives of the Netherlands and Switzerland," foreign minister Riyad al-Malki said.

He said the Palestinians had begun the "technical process" required to obtain membership of some 15 international conventions and covenants, including the Fourth Geneva Convention.

"This action does not detract from the importance of negotiations. We are still committed to these talks," he said.

In July, the PLO agreed to postpone accession to international bodies in exchange for the release of 104 Palestinians prisoners jailed before the Oslo Accords.

"Since Israel failed to release the last group of prisoners, the State of Palestine is no longer obliged to postpone its rights to accede to multilateral treaties and conventions," the PLO said in a statement Wednesday.

"Despite the escalation of oppressive Israeli policies such as the killing of Palestinian civilians, settlement construction, raids on vulnerable communities, arbitrary arrests and detentions, home demolitions and the removal of residency rights, we remained committed to the negotiations process and supported US efforts," it added.

Earlier, Israeli Tourism Minster Uzi Landau warned of punitive action if the PLO pursued efforts to join UN agencies and threatened that Israel could annex territory in the occupied West Bank in response.

Israel could also hurt the Palestinians economically by acting "to block financial aid to them," the minister added.
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