Palestinian prisoners held in Israel since before the Oslo Accords issued a special statement Wednesday in which they gave their consent to being released in four phases and not one, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had demanded.
Nevertheless, the prisoners asked that the Palestinian Authority secure the release of at least 52 inmates in the first phase – representing half of the list of 103 prisoners. They also demanded that the selection of the prisoners be based on time served, meaning that those who served the most time would be the first to be released. They are expecting strict supervision over the process of the release.
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Israel has agreed to release some 80 prisoners and has refused to free 14 Arab-Israeli inmates and 10 east Jerusalem residents.
The prisoners threatened not to leave prison unless they are sure that a third party is carefully overseeing the release. "Should there be any manipulation on Israel's part we will take unexpected steps that will stop the entire peace process," they wrote.
The families of the 14 Arab-Israelis held in Israel are scheduled to hold a press conference on Thursday in an attempt to create public pressure on the government that will force it to include them in the list.
Meanwhile, Palestinian sources told the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that a meeting between Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has been postponed to an unknown date. According to the sources, the delay is due to obstacles likely surrounding the demand that peace talks be held on the basis of the 1967 borders.
Earlier this week, the Knesset's Internal Affairs Committee held a discussion on the release of Palestinian prisoners. Amy Palmor, head of the pardons department at the Justice Ministry gave a survey on the prisoners Israel has released since 2003: 430 in the Tenenbaum deal, 1,000 in the Shalit deal, 400 in exchange for Azzam Azzam, and an undisclosed number in exchange for Ilan Grapel. Israel has also released between 200 and 400 prisoners as part of gestures towards the PA in the last decade.
Asked who chooses the prisoners, Palmor replied, "The political echelon gives a Justice Ministry committee a list of names. There were no prisoners 'with blood on their hands'."
The prisoners set to be released as part of the recently announced peace talks are 82 prisoners convicted of security offences, she said. According to Palmor, there has been a discussion about these prisoners for years. "Each and every one of them has blood on their hands," Palmor added.
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