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PNA Crisis As Israel Fails to Release Detainees

Israel’s Failure to Release Detainees Creates Palestinian Crisis

Fatah Central Committee Unanimously Rejects PM Abbas’ Resignation

Israeli government’s selective and fragmental policy to implement Israel’s obligations stipulated by the “roadmap” to Palestinian – Israeli peace has led to a crisis, which threatened Tuesday the survival of the Palestinian government of Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas as well as the Palestinian – Israeli talks on the US-sponsored “roadmap” peace plan.

The internal crisis was prompted by Israel’s failure to release thousands of Palestinian detainees in the jails of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) to bolster “roadmap'' to peace, Palestinian officials quoted by Reuters said.

The central committee of the ruling Fatah movement late Tuesday unanimously rejected PM Abba’s resignation, in an effort “to contain a burgeoning unprecedented and acute crisis,” which threatened his government, Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam reported Wednesday.

Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat told CNN: “President (Yasser) Arafat said he and the Central Committee rejected (Abbas’s) resignation and will do everything in their power to support (him) and to convince him to retract his resignation.”

Abbas submitted his resignation on Tuesday in a letter to President Arafat, who heads the PLO’s mainstream Fatah movement.

In a separate letter to Fatah’s central committee, the prime minister challenged the organization to outline a different policy toward the Israeli government and said he was ready to step down if his own line was at fault.

Abbas has been Arafat’s deputy in Fatah, the largest Palestinian movement, for decades. Both men were co-founders of Fatah in 1965.

In his letter to Arafat, Abbas asked the veteran leader and Fatah to outline how to proceed with confidence-building steps charted by the peace plan on a path to Palestinian statehood by 2005.

“If (Abbas) rejects their ideas, he will resign as prime minister,” a senior official said, Reuters reported.

The resignation offer followed a stormy meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank town of Ramallah late Monday at which Abbas came under fire over his contacts with Israel, especially on the issue of the release of Palestinians detained by the (IOF).

"If Abu Mazen were to resign, that would be the result of Israeli pressure because he secured a ceasefire, whereas Israel seems to want to provoke a (Palestinian) civil war,” said Sakher Habash, a fellow member of Fatah’s central committee.

Abbas-Sharon Meeting Postponed, not Cancelled: Amre

As a result, Abbas, who is also known by his nom de guerre of Abu Mazen, has postponed a scheduled meeting on Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Palestinian information minister Nabil Amr said it was hoped the meeting with Sharon could be reconvened at a later date.

"We have asked for a delay because we need more time to discuss differences over the detainee issues,” he told AFP. "It is an issue of great importance that will affect us internally and will affect the general environment of the meeting.”

Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner confirmed the Palestinians had cancelled Wednesday meeting but said it was not clear “why.”

Palestinian sources said members of the leadership expressed dismay about Abbas’ moderate approach on the issue of detainees.

The Palestinian leadership and national and Islamic factions have been angered by an Israeli government decision Sunday to pave the way for the release of just 350 Palestinian prisoners, representing little more than five percent of those currently in detention, according to the Palestine National Authority (PNA) Minister of Cabinet Affairs Yasser Abed Rabbo.

The Palestinian leadership said in a statement late Monday, following a meeting attended by members of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), PM Abbas and the Cabinet ministers of the Palestine National Authority (PNA), Speaker of the PLO national council, and leaders of Palestinian national and Islamic factions, had agreed that all Palestinian prisoners must be released unconditionally.

"The leadership rejects Israel's approach to the prisoners issue and all attempts to categorize them according to their political affiliation or to control the destiny of each one of them according to the law of occupation and aggression against our people,” the statement said.

Israel’s cabinet laid down strict criteria for the releases, which effectively ruled out anyone from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

The director general of the Palestinian prisoners’ affairs ministry said that Israel’s stance threatened the whole peace process.

"Israel cannot decide alone on the issue of the prisoners,” Radi al-Jaraaei told AFP.

"We have to realize that the prisoner issue was the main focus that brought out the hudna (truce) and by no means can Israel have the right to impose conditions and categorize the prisoners.”

US Backs PM Abbas

Abbas’ premiership is strongly backed by the United States, which rallied to his support.

Arafat appointed Abbas to the new post of Palestinian prime minister in April.

“We stand behind Prime Minister Abbas,” State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker said.

He said Abbas’ leadership has produced important changes beneficial to the Palestinians.

“What we have seen of his leadership is empowerment for Palestinian governing institutions taking place and his efforts to end terror and violence have presented a real opportunity to move forward.”

US envoy John Wolf on Tuesday with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and urged Israel to increase the number of Palestinian detainees to be released and to dismantle recently-built illegal settlers’ outposts.

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