Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (right) has told US Secretary of State John Kerry that Israel’s releasing prisoners is a "top priority" to help the resumption of peace talks. Kerry also visited Turkey on Sunday.
Abbas told Kerry that releasing the roughly 4,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israel was a "top priority for creating the right atmosphere for the resumption of negotiations." The Palestinian president also said that talks could only happen in tandem with an Israeli freeze on settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which he called "unacceptable."
"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, told the news agency AFP after Kerry and Abbas held nearly 90 minutes of talks at the presidential compound in Ramallah.
Abu Rudeina said the discussions sought to find the best way for resuming talks with Israel. Kerry was on his third trip to the region in around three weeks, having accompanied US President Barack Obama to the Middle East for the US president's March 20-22 visit and then returned alone a day later.
"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," Abu Rudeina quoted Abbas as saying.
One of the main points of concern on the Palestinian side is prisoners on hunger strike who are held without charge. Over the past week, there have been additional disturbances after a long-term prisoner died of cancer, leading some Palestinians to accuse Israel of medical negligence.
After nuclear talks between Iran and world powers in Kazakhstan ended without any progress, Kerry said in Istanbul on Sunday that the Obama administration remains committed to finding a diplomatic solution, even as Israel ramps up rhetoric calling for a military ultimatum.
"It is important to talk and to try to find common ground," Kerry told reporters at a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. "So we hope that out of Almaty will come a narrowing of some of the differences. We remain open and hopeful that a diplomatic solution can be found."
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton admitted on Saturday that during the two-day talks in Almaty, the former Kazakh capital, the two sides did not come to an understanding and still remain "a considerable distance apart" on substantive issues. Ashton represents the so-called P5+1, made up of the five permanent UN Security Council members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - plus Germany.
On Monday, Kerry will speak separately with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli President Shimon Peres. On Tuesday, he will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before flying to London for a Group of Eight (G8) foreign ministers' meeting and then on to Asia for talks in South Korea and China. He is scheduled to return to Washington on April 15.
mkg/msh (AFP, Reuters)