BEIRUT

Middle East

Israel to free 'around 80' Palestinian prisoners: official

  • Palestinians walk towards an Israeli checkpoint on their way to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the Qalandia checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem, Friday, July 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

JERUSALEM: Israel is set to decide on the release of around 80 long-serving Palestinian prisoners ahead of renewed peace talks, an Israeli official said on Monday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Friday that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had agreed to meet to prepare a resumption of direct peace talks, stalled since 2010.

"The prisoner releases will start when talks commence," the Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity. "We're talking about releasing them in stages."

There were "some 80 prisoners" set to be released, all of them "pre-Oslo," the official added, referring to Palestinians imprisoned before the 1993 Oslo peace accords.

The official would not say when a decision on their release would be made, and by whom -- whether the issue would go before the government, ministers or just Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli radio said Netanyahu would present the issue to his cabinet "in the next few days" ahead of the first meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators scheduled for early next week.

The official could not confirm the report.

The last round of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2010 over the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Kerry on Friday gave away very little about the initial agreement.

Israeli officials have hailed it as a "success" as it did not entail the Palestinian "preconditions" of a freeze on settlement construction or the pre-1967 borders as a basis for negotiations.

But Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has repeatedly stressed his demands for a freeze on settlement building on occupied land and release of prisoners held by Israel must be met before the talks can resume.

 
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