Palestinian prisoners on talks agenda

A Palestinian minister has said the issue of detainees in Israeli jails will be addressed at the Sharm al-Shaikh summit, in marked contrast to comments made by the Israeli president.

    So far Israel has agreed to set free 900 Palestinian prisoners

    The minister for prisoners' affairs, Hisham Abd al-Razaq, told Aljazeera on Sunday that the Palestinian Authority had not agreed to "Israel's criteria for selecting Palestinian prisoners".

    "The issue is still one of the controversial points between us and the Israeli side ...

    Israel's position with regard to these criteria needs to be more constructive. Otherwise, the Palestinian side will never agree with Israel's viewpoint," he added

    Al-Razaq's comments came as Israeli President Moshe Katsav said on Sunday he would refuse to issue a presidential pardon to any Palestinian prisoner convicted of deadly attacks on Israel.

    Blood on hands

    "There is no reason for anyone to think the (Samir) Quntars of this world will be freed," Katsav told army radio, referring to a
    Lebanese prisoner jailed for life over the murder of an Israeli man and his daughter in 1979.

    President Katsav: Prisoners who
    killed Israelis will not be freed

    "Humanitarian values dictate that anyone who has committed murder and has blood on his hands should serve his sentence."

    Katsav explained his position in a telephone call to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon late Saturday, the radio said.

    His comments came as Israel and the Palestinians continued intensive negotiations over criteria of prisoners to be released, a move likely to be finalised at Tuesday's peace summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Shaikh.

    Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz told the cabinet he had agreed to release two of six prisoners that Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas had personally asked Israel to free, the radio said. Israel had initial denied the request.

    Neither convicted

    One of the two was Qassam al-Barghuthi, the son of Marwan al-Barghuthi, the man regarded as the inspiration behind the Palestinian uprising and who is serving five life sentences for murder.

    Marwan Barghuti's son will be
    released on Abbas' request

    Neither of the two men concerned have been convicted of deadly offences.

    Israel has agreed to free 900 of the 8000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, but has stressed it would not release any detainees who were involved in attacks which killed Israelis.

    The Palestinians, however, are pushing Israel for a greater number of detainees to be released.

    Received coolly

    In a related development, the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Sunday by pledging renewed US commitment to Middle East peacemaking entering a new chapter at a summit this week.

    Walid al-Umari, Aljazeera's correspondent in Jerusalem, said Rice's decision to visit Jerusalem and Ram Allah has been received coolly by Israeli officials - and for two reasons.  

    Palestinian security bodies are
    once again enforcing the law

    The first is that Israelis did not want her to come at a time the US might mediate between them and the Palestinians as Israelis prefer to have a direct dialogue with Palestinians.

    The second reason is the move to set up a crisis-management mechanism - a new label for the once-functional Israeli-Palestinian security system supervised by the CIA.

    Al-Umari said Israelis are not satisfied with a US proposal or initiative that might prevent rapid Israeli reprisals against any Palestinian resistance operation.

    It is clear that Rice's visit is not like the visits of other US secretaries of state who visited Israel before and were warmly received, he added.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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