Israel is to renege on a commitment to release a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners on Saturday, a move that delivers another blow to US-brokered peace talks.
A senior Palestinian official, Jibril Rajub, told AFP news agency on Friday that Israel had informed the Palestinians via US mediators that it would not abide by its commitment to release the prisoners on Saturday, March 29.
“Israel has refused to commit to the names that were agreed upon of prisoners held by Israel since before the 1993 Oslo agreements,” Rajub said.
The Palestinians have threatened to walk away from the peace talks if the prisoners are not released.
Israeli officials had no immediate comment.
Under the US-brokered deal that relaunched the peace talks in July, Israel said it would release 104 Arabs held since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords in exchange for the Palestinians not pressing their statehood claims at the United
Israel has so far freed 78 prisoners, but members of the cabinet said they would block the final release if the Palestinians refused to extend the peace talks beyond their April 29 deadline.
The peace process has teetered on the brink of collapse, with Washington fighting an uphill battle to get the two sides to agree to a framework for continued negotiations until the end of the year.
Israel’s move follows an announcement by Arab leaders on Wednesday which blamed Israel for a lack of progress in the talks, and said that they would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
The Arab League issued a communique at the end of a two-day summit that rejected “the continuation of settlements, Judaisation of Jerusalem, and attacks in its Muslim and Christian shrines”.
US Secretary of State John Kerry then met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman on Wednesday night in a bid to salvage the talks.
Kerry brought Israel and the Palestinians back into negotiations on July 29, 2013, after a three-year gap, and said at the time that “our objective will be to achieve a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months”.
As the April deadline approaches, US officials have scaled back their ambitions, saying they are now trying to forge a “framework for negotiations” by then.
(Al Jazeera and agencies – www.aljazeera.com)