x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Palestinian prisoners await release as settlement reports strain talks

Israeli cabinet ministers authorise a third round of Palestinian prisoner releases as part of deal brokered by US secretary of state to free 104 prisoners in four rounds.

A relative of Palestinian prisoner Bilal Abu Hassin at home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Jabal Mukaber shows his picture before his anticipated release. All of the prisoners have served at least 19 years. Ammar Awad / Reuters
A relative of Palestinian prisoner Bilal Abu Hassin at home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Jabal Mukaber shows his picture before his anticipated release. All of the prisoners have served at least 19 years. Ammar Awad / Reuters

Jerusalem // Israeli cabinet ministers authorised a third round of Palestinian prisoner releases, following through on a pledge made to help bring Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

“The release of 26 Palestinian prisoners was authorised this evening,” the office of the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in a statement e-mailed on Saturday. Most were convicted over attacks on Israelis and, according to the statement, all have served sentences of at least 19 years.

The prisoners’ names were published overnight on the Israel Prison Services website. Israelis have 48 hours to appeal to the High Court of Justice to block their release.

Israel agreed to free 104 Palestinian prisoners in four rounds as part of the deal that the United States secretary of state, John Kerry, brokered in July to renew peace negotiations for a period of nine months.

Mr Kerry is scheduled to travel to the Middle East on January 1 in an effort to advance the talks, and possibly to achieve an agreement that would enable the negotiations to extend beyond their current April 29 deadline.

“Right now, the effort is to reach a framework agreement that will guide the negotiations in the direction of a final agreement that will end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians,” the US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, said on Sunday on Israeli Army Radio. “We discern significant advancement in recent weeks, and the secretary really wants to take advantage of this visit to make progress.”

The talks have been strained by reports that Israel will this week announce further construction in West Bank settlements, as it did concurrently with the two previous releases of Palestinian prisoners.

Mr Shapiro refuted reports in local media linking further releases and Israeli concessions in peacemaking to the possible freeing by the US of Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew jailed since 1985 for passing classified intelligence to Israel.

“In my view there is no direct connection between the Pollard issue and the negotiations, or the freeing of Palestinian prisoners,” Mr Shapiro said.

* Bloomberg