'Israel to blame for obstructing Kerry peace efforts if Palestinian prisoners not freed'

Nimer Hammad, a political advisor to Abbas says US should fulfill its commitment to see that the prisoners are released; Poll finds 87% of Palestinians seek recourse in international institutions.

Abbas with released prisoners in Ramallah 390 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad )
Abbas with released prisoners in Ramallah 390
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad )
The Palestinian Authority is still waiting for a US reply regarding the release of the last batch of Palestinian prisoners, Palestinian officials in Ramallah said Saturday.
The fourth group of prisoners was scheduled  to be released on Saturday night.
Some Palestinian officials claimed on Friday that the Israeli government has notified the US Administration that it would not release the prisoners.
But other officials later denied that claim, saying the Palestinians still haven't received a reply from Washington regarding the release of the prisoners.
Nimer Hammad, political advisor to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said, "The US Administration previously sponsored the release of Palestinian prisoners so that we wouldn't go to the United Nations and international agencies. Now it has to fulfill its commitment and we are waiting for its reply."
Hammad said that the US Administration should exert pressure on Israel to implement the understandings reached regarding the release of Palestinians imprisoned before the signing of the Oslo Accords."
He said that if Israel refuses to release the fourth and final batch of prisoners, then US Secretary of State John Kerry should hold the Israeli government responsible for obstructing his efforts to achieve peace.
Hamad said that the PA leadership does not intend to engage in a "war of statements" with Israel and prefers to give the US Administration more time to pursue its efforts.
PA Minister for Prisoners Affairs, Issa Qaraqi, also sought to play down the crisis over the prisoners.
The US, he said, is continuing its efforts to seek the release of the fourth batch of prisoners.
"The prisoners won't be released today [Saturday]," he added. "But the doors have still not been closed. The Palestinian leadership is waiting to see what the coming hours would bring."
Meanwhile a poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion and released on Saturday, found that 85.7% of Palestinians support their leadership in resorting to international institutions in case Israel fails to release a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners.
As a gesture for resuming diplomatic negotiations in July, Israel said it would free 104 Palestinian terrorists convicted before the 1993 Oslo accords. In exchange, the Palestinians pledged to halt their diplomatic efforts to seek full recognitions a member state in the United Nations.
Earlier, Palestinian officials denounced Israel for refusing to release the prisoners on Saturday, dubbing it a severe blow to Kerry's efforts to achieve peace.
Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub told AFP that the Israeli government has informed the US of its decision not to release the prisoners.
Another Fatah official, Ziad Abu Ain, wrote on his Facebook page that US envoy Martin Indyk relayed the Israeli message to the Palestinians late Friday night.
Abu Ain said that Israel was seeking to sabotage the agreement [on the prisoners] because of its "internal crisis" - a reference to the opposition of some Israeli ministers to the move.
He accused Israel of working to "blackmail" the Palestinians by conditioning the release of the prisoners on the PA leadership's agreement to the extension of the peace talks after April 29.
Hazem Abu Shanab, member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, was quoted on Friday as saying that Israel would "regret" its decision not to release the prisoners on time.
Abu Shanab told the Ma'an news agency that the decision would cause Israel "huge damage." He urged the US Administration to step up its pressure on Israel to  fulfill its commitments toward the peace process.
"Failure to release the prisoners will pave the way for various Palestinian steps that could change the political and diplomatic equation in the international arena," Abu Shanab cautioned. 
Jpost.com staff contributed to this report.