By Zvi Rabinovich Israel’s government says it has not agreed to the release of Palestinian prisoners, but there are calls from Israel’s political leaders to try to find a solution.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday called for a Palestinian prisoner release to be agreed to by all sides, including Israel, but he did not specify what steps the two sides should take.
The Palestinian Authority is demanding that Israel release prisoners on humanitarian grounds, the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, told reporters after meeting Netanyahu.
A Palestinian official said on Monday that Abbas had reached an agreement on the release, which will not be finalised until the end of the month.
Israel said it had not agreed.
The prisoner release was the most urgent issue facing the Palestinians at this point, Abbas said, adding that the Palestinian leadership would discuss the issue with the Israeli government in the coming days.
“We are waiting for the Palestinian side to respond,” Abbas said.
The PA’s deputy foreign minister, Nabil Abu Rudeina, called for the release.
“The PA is waiting for an Israeli-Palestinian prisoner release, and in the meantime we are preparing a list of demands,” Abu Rudesina told Reuters news agency.
“A Palestinian release will not lead to a Palestinian state, a Palestinian unity government and the creation of a Palestinian homeland,” he said.
Palestinians in Gaza have accused Israel of using civilians as human shields.
Israel says that Palestinian militants have killed more than 1,400 Israelis since the 1967 war ended with an agreement to a ceasefire.
Hamas has said it would be willing to give up its weapons, but it would not negotiate with Israel over the fate of Palestinians.
Israel has been building homes on the occupied territories to house Palestinian refugees, including hundreds of thousands of women and children.
The UN says nearly 3 million Palestinians have been forced from their homes since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was not yet clear if the Palestinian government had made a commitment to the Palestinians that it would release the remaining prisoners.
“It is not yet certain if the release would take place at all,” ICRC spokesman David Swanson said in a statement.
The ICRC, which has been helping to coordinate the release effort, said it wanted to “ensure the continued access to the Palestinian prisoners”.
It was not immediately clear how the Palestinian delegation would be briefed about the release and when it would meet with the negotiators.
Israel announced that it had decided to open its border to the PA, which said it did not recognise the Israeli-held territories.
Israel launched an offensive on the Gaza Strip, which Hamas controls, in response to a rocket attack from Gaza.
Israel closed its borders to Palestinians, temporarily.