'Abbas says he'll ask Netanyahu for prisoner release'

PA president tells 'TIME' that Olmert promised to release Fatah prisoners after Schalit deal, sources near Olmert reportedly confirm the story.

October 21, 2011 09:41
2 minute read.
PA President Abbas speaking ahead of trip to UN

PA President Mahmoud Abbas 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)


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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is looking to cash in on a promise made by former prime minister Ehud Olmert to release Fatah prisoners following any deal that sees Gilad Schalit freed, TIME Magazine reported on Thursday.

Olmert, Abbas told TIME, told him at the time: "I cannot because we have a Shalit deal, but I promise you when we conclude Shalit and everything is okay, I will give you, not the same number, not the same quality, more."

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But the deal was to remain secret in order not to negatively affect negotiations for Schalit's release. "Now the deal is over," Abbas said, "and we will ask them to fulfil their promises."

Army Radio reported Friday morning that officials close to Olmert confirmed Abbas's version of events, saying that the former prime minister intended to release some 550 Fatah prisoners as part of the Schalit deal. The move, the source said, was meant to ensure Abbas remained strong in the West Bank.

Earlier this week in discussions with American diplomats, Abbas told TIME, he presented the idea of cashing in on the Olmert offer as an Israeli "confidence building" measure to help restart peace talks.

The offer, Abbas said to the US magazine, would be transmitted to Netanyahu as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition in the coming days. "But I will send to him a message within two or three days, to ask him whether he will accept or not. I'm not going to argue with him or not negotiate with him or to talk in details about it. Either, or."

The Quartet was scheduled to begin indirect talks with Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem next week in an attempt to restart the talks.

Quartet representatives will meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian officials on October 26 and press them to present their ideas on security arrangements and borders for a two-state solution within three months, said Tony Blair, the Quartet envoy to the Middle East, on Wednesday.

The indirect meetings will be held in Jerusalem, three days past the deadline the Quartet set at the UN on September 23 for a direct “preparatory meeting” between the two sides aimed at restarting direct negotiations.

Blair said the September 23 statement had also called on the parties to set out their “detailed proposals on borders and security in three months.”

Senior Palestinian officials have for the last year refused to return to peace talks with Israel if Jerusalem doesn't implement a settlement building freeze, something the Netanyahu government has declined to do.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated that point last week, saying, "My view is that anyone who tries to get around the point that Israel must halt settlement and accept the '67 borders is only wasting their time."

Herb Keinon and Reuters contributed to this report.

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