Israel and the Palestinian Authority are discussing implementing a clause from a 2005 understanding whereby Israel would stop pursuing wanted terror suspects in the West Bank if they forswear terrorism, government officials said Thursday. The officials' comments came as Israel went after Fatah terror suspects in Nablus.
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Even though Israel was making gestures to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement, it would continue to pursue those actively involved in terrorism, regardless of their organizational affiliation, the officials said.
The idea of forgoing the pursuit of wanted men if they renounce terrorism was part of the Sharm e-Sheikh understandings that were reached between Abbas and then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2005. It was agreed then to discuss the issue, but nothing was ever implemented.
Following Monday's meeting in Sharm e-Sheikh, this issue was again placed on the agenda for security-level discussions that have started up again between Israeli and PA officials.
The discussions on the issue, according to the sources, were still very much in the preliminary stages.
The security follow-up group is also discussing allowing the Jordan-based Badr Brigade - a force made up of a few thousand longtime PLO men - to enter the West Bank, as well as examining the possibility of moving the main cargo crossing to the Gaza Strip from Karni in the north to Kerem Shalom in the south.
In addition to discussing security issues, Israel and PA officials are continuing talks on how to transfer some $400 million in frozen tax revenues to the PA. Government officials said that while Israel holds some $600m. of the revenue, about $200m. cannot be immediately released because of court cases pending against the PA for nonpayment to Israeli companies. Once a mechanism for transferring the funds is set up, Israel is expected to free up the money in stages.
The cabinet on Sunday will vote on whether to release 250 Fatah security prisoners, as Olmert said he would recommend. The cabinet will also decide on the criteria for release, though Olmert has already made clear that they would not be prisoners with "blood on their hands."
If, as expected, the proposal for the prisoner release passes, security officials will prepare a list of names. This list will then be published, giving people 48 hours to file objections in court. If the objections are dismissed, the prisoners could be released immediately.