Gov't mulls another prisoner release ahead of Annapolis

Number, identity of prisoners as yet undetermined, says senior official; MI chief Yadlin warns of Hamas attempt to derail parley results.

By MARK WEISS, JPOST.COM STAFF
November 11, 2007 18:43
2 minute read.
Gov't mulls another prisoner release ahead of Annapolis

Amos Yadlin 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

 
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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann will ask the government to approve another round of Palestinian prisoner release ahead of the peace conference scheduled to take place in Annapolis, Maryland later this month, several government ministers said Monday morning. The additional prisoner release, a gesture of goodwill to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was already discussed several weeks ago, when 120 prisoners were freed. A senior government official told Israel Radio that the number and identity of prisoners to be released had not been determined, and would be decided by the government. On Sunday, OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin said Hamas may try to carry out terrorist attacks to torpedo the peace process if it looks like the conference and the ensuing negotiations will achieve progress. Abbas needs to achieve diplomatic momentum and bring about changes on the ground to boost his own standing amongst the Palestinian population, he told government ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting. If he fails, the opposite will happen, he said, adding: "Failure of the conference could bring about a serious risk of strengthening the extremists." Israeli counterterrorism operations continue to thwart the ongoing attempts by Hamas to carry out attacks, Yadlin said. Hamas was currently focusing its efforts on building up its military infrastructure, training and increasing its supplies of weapons in preparation for an expected large scale IDF thrust into Gaza, he said. Ten tons of TNT were smuggled into the Gaza Strip in the last month alone, he said. Yadlin denied there was a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, but said, "It's not a place I would want to live." National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer expressed support for the Annapolis conference, but said he had doubts over the ability of the Palestinian moderates to actually deliver. "Annapolis is not Camp David, Annapolis is the beginning of a process," Yadlin responded. The aim of the process, he said, was to give the moderates sufficient benefits to strengthen their position. Olmert promised to hold cabinet debates on Annapolis both before the conference - tentatively set for two weeks from now - and after. "There is no commitment to any timetable," he said. "I want to move forward cautiously and responsibly, but I want to move forward." Olmert said the alternative to Annapolis was a continuation of the status quo, which would be bad for Israel. "Anyone who believes the status quo is good for Israel is either deluding themselves or living in a fantasy world," he said. Israeli negotiators will demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state during negotiations following the Annapolis conference. However, Olmert's spokeswoman, Miri Eisen, refused to classify such a demand as a precondition for the talks to progress. "There's nothing new here," she said. "The prime minister has consistently stated that Israel sees the two-state solution as two nation-states side by side - a Jewish State of Israel and a Palestinian state." A senior official denied reports on Sunday that Israel was considering easing the definition of Palestinian security prisoners "with blood on their hands" ahead of a possible future release. The official confirmed that the security establishment was examining the possibility of a further release following a request from the PA for Israel to free another 2,000 detainees, but he denied any change in classification was being considered.

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