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PNA Rejects Limited Israeli Release of Detainees

PNA Rejects ‘Limited’ Israeli Release of Palestinian Detainees As ‘Insufficient’

The Palestine National Authority (PNA) said that the Israeli government’s decision for releasing a “limited” number of Palestinian detainees was “insufficient” and described the Israeli criteria set for their release as a “negative approach,” at a time when the Palestinian factions warned that “all” detainees must be freed for the truce to hold.

"This is an insufficient step," the PNA Information Minister Nabil Amre said, adding the United States would be called on to pressure Israel to free all Palestinian detainees in the jails of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF).

According to the Israeli proposal approved Sunday by the cabinet in a 13-9 vote, the Israeli ministerial committee will decide which detainees on a list provided by the Shin Bet Security Service will be freed.

The list includes some 350 Palestinians: 215 administrative detainees who have never been charged, 100 described as “criminal offenders” and others sentenced for less serious charges, including minors, women and the elderly.

Women and detainees under the age of 18 and over 60 will also be given priority.

According to the criteria approved by the Israeli cabinet, Palestinians who have killed Israeli occupation troops and illegal settlers or have orchestrated attacks, and members of Palestinian opposition groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) will not be released.

“This is a negative approach,” the PNA Minister of State for Security Affairs Mohammad Dahlan said on Sunday.

About 6,000 Palestinians are being held in IOF jails allegedly for security and non-security-related offenses. Of those, about 2,000 have “blood on their hands,” 720 are Hamas members, 344 belong to the Islamic Jihad and 136 to the PFLP, according to Israelis. Palestinian estimates put the figure at over 8,000.

“We have positively considered a limited, qualified and measured release of prisoners,'' Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Sunday. The measures does not apply to “prisoners with blood on their hands, murderers, those who have attacked Israelis and foreign nationals,'' Sharon said.

The Israeli government set up a commission, headed by Sharon, to oversee the operation.

On Sunday, Dahlan met with Israeli “Defense” Minister Shaul Mofaz to discuss a prisoner release and Palestinian demands for further withdrawals from Palestinian areas reoccupied by the IOF.

Dahlan told Mofaz that the move was a positive first step but reiterated demands for all detainees to be set free when the pair met in Jerusalem, a Palestinian security source told AFP.

Dahlan has also asked to be allowed to present the Palestinian position on the issue in talks with the Israeli cabinet ministers, Ha’aretz reported Monday.

"We told him (Mofaz) that this is a good first step but not enough. We told him that this is very important for the people to support the peace process and Abu Mazen,” the nom-de-guerre of the Palestinian prime minister Mahmud Abbas, who is spearheading the Palestinian negotiations with the Israelis.

The Palestinian Prisoners’ Club voiced a similar proposal.

"The Israeli government should not make these decisions unilaterally," said Qadoura Fares, a Palestinian legislator and president of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, which assists detainees.

"What we are demanding is a joint Palestinian-Israeli committee that negotiates the criteria and approves the names of those to be released," Fares said on Sunday.

Securing the freedom of detainees is a top priority for Palestinian PM Abbas and a key demand by Palestinian factions, which agreed to a cease-fire a week ago.

Abbas was expected to discuss the release of detainees during a meeting with Sharon scheduled for Wednesday.

Failure by Israel to release Palestinian detainees would pose “the biggest single threat” to the success of the ceasefire and the US-sponsored “roadmap” peace plan, Abbas said last Wednesday.

"If we wait for three months without any release of the prisoners, the ceasefire will break down. If they assassinate anybody ... it will collapse," Abbas told Reuters.

Initial reaction from opposition Palestinian groups, which recently announced a truce conditional on the release of all prisoners, was largely negative.

A senior official for Hamas said the move was “insufficient” while Islamic Jihad said the Israelis were giving false hope to families of detainees.

"We demand the liberation of all the detainees and in particular those from Hamas and we are not prepared to accept discrimination in this regard," Hamas official Ismail Hanyeh told AFP.

But he said that the move represented a "first step" while reiterating that that the release of "all those in detention" remained a condition of the ceasefire agreed last weekend.

A senior official from Islamic Jihad, another signatory to the truce, criticized the "Zionist manoeuvre" and accused the Israeli government of "playing with the hopes of families.”

The importance of the issue was underlined when around 3,000 protestors gathered in the centre of Gaza City on Sunday to demand the release of Palestinian prisoners.

"There can be no peace or security without freedom for detainees," chanted the demonstrators in a peaceful protest.

The official Hamas-Islamic Jihad joint statement, which declared the truce on July first, announced that both factions will be absolved of their commitment to ceasefire if “the enemy does not act according” to their demands.

Topping their demands was the “release of all prisoners and detainees, Palestinian and Arab, from occupation prisons without condition or restriction and the return to their homes first and foremost of those who have spent long periods and those with lengthy sentences, women, children, the sick and elderly.”

Fatah’s statement on the same day voiced similar position.

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