Abbas to Kerry: Release of 4,500 prisoners key to resuming talks
RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories - Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Sunday told visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry that the release of prisoners held by Israel was a "top priority" for resuming peace talks.
"President Abbas stressed that the release of the prisoners is a priority that creates an appropriate climate for the possibility of moving the peace process forward," his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said after the two held nearly 90 minutes of talks at the presidential compound in Ramallah.
Abbas told Kerry that releasing the 4,500 or so prisoners held in Israeli jails, a deeply sensitive issue on the Palestinian street, was a "top priority for creating the right atmosphere for the resumption of negotiations."
Abu Rudeina said the discussions with Kerry were geared towards finding the best way of creating an appropriate climate for resuming talks with Israel.
He said it was Abbas's fourth meeting with Kerry in just over a month.
Abbas also said talks can only happen in tandem with an Israeli freeze on settlement construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank which he said was "unacceptable" and a "red line" particularly in the highly sensitive E1 area just outside Jerusalem.
"The Palestinian side is willing to return to the negotiating table, but only if Israel stops settlement activity in Palestinian territories and releases prisoners, especially those arrested before signing of the (1993) Oslo Accords," he quoted Abbas as saying.
The issue of Palestinians jailed by Israel is highly sensitive and frequently sparks mass demonstrations across the territories that tend to develop into violent clashes with the military.
One of the main points of concern is prisoners on hunger strike who are held without charge, but over the last week, there have been major disturbances over the death of a long-term prisoner with cancer, with the Palestinians accusing Israel of medical negligence.