Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that on August 13 Israel will release 26 Palestinian prisoners it has been holding since before the signing of the Oslo agreement.
Palestinian media outlets published Erekat's comments on Saturday. He was quoted as saying that the 26 prisoners will be released in the first of four phases that will see a total of 104 inmates freed by Israel as a gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of the official resumption of direct peace talks. Israel refused to release all detainees at the same time, Erekat added.
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The next round of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is set to begin the day after the release of the 26 prisoners. Erekat said the leadership in Ramallah has informed the US and Israel that all final status issues must be put on the negotiating table, including Jerusalem, refugees, water and settlements.
The prisoner release was approved by Israel's cabinet last week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during the cabinet meeting: "This moment is not easy for me. It is not easy for the ministers. It is not easy especially for the families, the bereaved families, whose heart I understand. But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the country and this is one of those moments."
On Thursday, US President Barack Obama spoke by phone to Abbas and Netanyahu, the White House said, as the United States seeks to keep up the momentum for peace negotiations.
The phone calls came days after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators ended a three-year void and met in Washington with Secretary of State John Kerry.
"President Obama called Prime Minister Netanyahu today to commend his leadership and courage in resuming final status negotiations with the Palestinians," the White House said in a statement.
"The president underscored that while the parties have much work to do in the days and months ahead, the United States will support them fully in their efforts to achieve peace."
A similar statement was sent regarding Obama's call with Abbas. "The president reaffirmed that the United States stands ready to support the parties in achieving a just and lasting peace based on the two state solution, and will continue to work closely with the Palestinian Authority to achieve this goal," it said.
Reuters contributed to the report
You can contact Elior Levy, Ynet's Palestinian Affairs Correspondent, at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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