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PLO slams Israel ahead of prisoner release

Israel's negotiating position with Palestinians in US-sponsored peace talks is the toughest it has taken since before the 1993 Oslo Accords, senior Palestinian official says.

RAMALLAH // Israel’s negotiating position with the Palestinians in US-sponsored peace talks is the toughest it has taken since before the 1993 Oslo Accords, a senior Palestinian official said yesterday.

The criticism came ahead of the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners by Israel, scheduled for late last night, as part of an agreement brokered by the United States to bring both sides back to the negotiating table.

“The current Israeli negotiating position is the worst in more than 20 years,” said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top official with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, adding there had been “no tangible progress” in talks that resumed in July after a hiatus of nearly three years.

“They want security first, and that the borders of the state of Palestine should be set out according to Israeli security needs that never end, and that will undermine the possibility of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state,” Mr Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the PLO executive committee, said in a statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists on an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley region of the occupied West Bank in any final settlement, although the Palestinians refuse to countenance troops on land they want for a future state.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who in July nudged the Israelis and Palestinians into resuming talks frozen since September 2010, said on Monday that the peace talks, which take place under an American-imposed media blackout, had “intensified.”

He said that since the end of July, 13 direct meetings had taken place.

“The pace has intensified, all the core issues are on the table and they have been meeting with increased intensity,” Kerry said.

“It is no secret to anybody that this is and remains a difficult process, there is no shortage of passionate sceptics,” he added.

Palestinian leaders have been criticised over Israel’s continued approval of new settlements on land wanted for a future state, while Mr Netanyahu has faced opposition from members of his coalition over releasing Palestinian prisoners.

The latest release, the second of four tranches in which a total of 104 Palestinians will be freed, will send 21 prisoners back to their homes in the West Bank.

The remaining five were being driven to a holding area on the Israeli side of the Erez crossing to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, ahead of their release later, the Israel Prisons Service spokeswoman, Sivan Weizman, said.

All 26 were convicted for killing Israelis, with most of the attacks occurring before the 1993 Oslo Accords, which granted the Palestinians limited self-rule but failed to bring about an independent state.

* Agence France-Presse

Updated: October 29, 2013 04:00 AM

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