Israel misses deadline for announcing prisoner release


(JTA) — Israel’s government missed the legally required deadline for releasing 26 Palestinian prisoners due to be freed as part of the peace talks.

Israel Radio quoted Jibril Rajoub, a top Palestinian security official, as saying that Israel had relayed through American channels that it does not intend to go ahead with the release.

Israeli law requires the government to make the names of the prisoners selected for release known at least 48 hours before they are set free, to allow for the processing of High Court of Justice appeals.

The prisoners were due to be released Saturday, but by Friday morning the five-minister committee chaired by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that names prisoners to be released had not yet made their identities known. No date for convening the committee was publicized.

The Prime Minister’s Office has repeatedly turned down requests for comment on the issue. Tzipi Livni, Israel’s justice minister and the top negotiator with the Palestinians, said last week that there was never an “automatic commitment to release prisoners unrelated to making progress in negotiations.”

Israeli government officials reportedly said the release would be contingent on whether Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would agree to U.S. pleas to extend talks another nine months beyond an April 29 deadline.

Abbas met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for four hours in Jordan on Wednesday night. An additional meeting Friday between Abbas and U.S. special envoy Martin Indyk ended without progress, according to the Times of Israel.

Under the terms of the U.S.-brokered deal that got the sides back to the negotiating table last July, Israel was to release 104 prisoners convicted of crimes before the 1993 Oslo Accords, and the Palestinians were to abstain from diplomatic moves to gain statehood status in various international organizations.

Israel so far has freed 78 prisoners and was due to release the fourth and final batch on March 29, including some Arab Israelis jailed for attacks.

Leaders of Netanyahu’s Likud party have opposed plans for releasing the prisoners. Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said he would resign if the final release goes through.

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