Israel has told the Palestinians it is delaying the release of a final batch of prisoners, which was scheduled for Saturday within the framework of U.S.-brokered peace talks, a senior Palestinian official told AFP on Friday.
Israel said it would release 104 prisoners, imprisoned since before the 1993 Oslo Accords, under the agreement which restarted peace talks in July last year. The deal was made in exchange for the Palestinians not pursuing claims to statehood at the United Nations. To date, Israel has released three batches of prisoners, some 78 in total.
However, members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet have said that if the Palestinians do not agree to extend the April 29 deadline of talks, they would stop the release of the fourth batch of prisoners.
"The Israeli government has informed us through the American mediator that it will not abide with its commitment to release the fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday 29," AFP cited Fatah official Jibril Rajoub as saying. "Israel has refused to commit to the names that were agreed upon of prisoners held by Israel since before the 1993 Oslo agreements."
There were no comments on the issue from Israeli officials, AFP said.
On Thursday, the Palestinian ministry for prisoners sent families of those awaiting release messages saying the release will not take place on Saturday night as originally scheduled, but that they will not agree to a lengthy delay and think the fourth stage will take place within two weeks.
If Israel blocks the release of the prisoner, Rajoub said, this would be a "slap in the face of the U.S. administration and its efforts." He added that the Palestinians would resume their efforts in the international arena as a result.
"Not releasing the prisoners will mark the beginning of the efforts in the international community to challenge the legality of the occupation," AFP cited him as saying.
Senior American officials held marathon meetings this past week with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in order to resolve the crisis over the release of Palestinian prisoners and to formulate an agreement allowing for the extension of negotiations between the two sides past April 29.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Abbas for a long time in Amman on Wednesday, trying to convince him to agree to extend the negotiations. As he met with Abbas, Kerry also spoke on the phone with Netanyahu. On Thursday, while he was in Rome accompanying U.S. President Barack Obama on his visit, Kerry continued his phone conversations with both Netanyahu and Abbas.