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Palestinians Demand Release of Barghouti

The Palestinian Authority is set to demand that the Quartet pressure Israel to release prisoners in fulfillment of a pledge made by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, senior Palestinian sources told Haaretz on Monday.

Among the prisoners The PA wants released are Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Saadat, both members of the Fatah leadership.

Abbas told Time Magazine a few days ago that, in 2008, Olmert promised him that Israel would release prisoners to the PA if a deal went through for the release of Gilad Shalit.

Olmert confirmed to Time that he had made the pledge.

Now the PA wants to present the demand ahead of a possible renewal of negotiations with Israel.

At the Knesset on Monday, MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al ) said that Israel should not be surprised if the two current conditions the Palestinians have set for restarting talks – a halt to construction in the settlements and recognition of the 1967 borders as a basis for negotiations – become three, the third being the prisoner release.

The PA’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said on Monday that during meetings between Olmert and Abbas in Jerusalem in September 2008, as well as a few months later, Olmert pledged to release Palestinian prisoners if a prisoner swap for Shalit was concluded.

Erekat said a specific number of prisoners was not mentioned, nor were specific criteria, but that Olmert had agreed at the time that the number and criteria would be the same as those for prisoners released in exchange for Shalit, “and even better.”

Erekat said this was not to be a condition for restarting negotiations, “just as the freezing of construction in the settlements is not a condition.” Rather, it was a matter of fulfilling obligations, he said.

For more, go to Haaretz.com

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