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Tags: israel | palestinians | talks | kerry | peace | prisoners

Israel: Palestinian Prisoners to be Freed in Talks

By    |   Saturday, 20 July 2013 06:23 AM EDT

JERUSALEM — A senior Israeli official says some Palestinian prisoners will be released as part of the new breakthrough by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in efforts to restart Mideast talks.

Israel's intelligence and strategic affairs minister, Yuval Steinitz, told Israel Radio on Saturday that some "hardcore prisoners" will be released. This has been a long-standing Palestinian demand.

Steinitz says the Mideast talks will re-start without other Palestinian demands such as settlement freeze or defining 1967 lines as borders ahead of negotiations.

"There will be some release of prisoners," Steinitz told Israel Radio. "I don't want to give numbers but there will be heavyweight prisoners who have been in jail for tens of years." The release would be carried out in phases, he added.

It was the first Israeli comment since Kerry announced on Friday night that the two sides will meet soon in Washington to formalize an agreement on relaunching peace talks that collapsed in 2008.

Kerry said Israel and Palestinian negotiators should be going to Washington soon to hold initial talks.

Palestinians have long demanded that Israel free prisoners held since before 1993, when the two sides signed the Oslo Accords, a interim deal intended to lead to an independent state the Palestinians seek in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
"In all meetings held by President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) with minister Kerry and others, the Palestinian demand to release the prisoners topped the agenda," said Abbas's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdaineh. "Freeing prisoners is a Palestinian priority that should precede any agreement.
There are about 100 pre-Oslo prisoners in Israeli jails, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club, a Palestinian body that looks after the interests of inmates and their families.
Steinitz indicated that some of those who would be released had been convicted of violent crimes against Israelis.
"It will not be simple, but we will make that gesture," he said.
The Palestinians say the talks must be about establishing a future state with borders approximating the boundaries that existed before Israel captured territories in a 1967 war.
Steinitz said there had been no Israeli concession on that point nor on the Palestinian demand that Israel halt all construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
"There is no chance that we will agree to enter any negotiations that begin with defining territorial borders or concessions by Israel, nor a construction freeze," he said.
A senior Palestinian official with knowledge of the talks told Reuters: "Our position remains clear: resumption of negotiations should be based on the two-state solution and on the 1967 borders."
Kerry said on Friday that the deal between Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations was still being "formalized" but that negotiators for both sides could begin talks in Washington "within the next week or so."

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A senior Israeli official says some Palestinian prisoners will be released as part of the new breakthrough by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in efforts to restart Mideast talks.
Saturday, 20 July 2013 06:23 AM
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