05/09/2005, 00.00
israel-palestine
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Israel turns down Palestinian demand for prisoner release

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Israel has halted the release of Palestinian prisoners on Sunday 7, demanding that the Palestinian Authority crack down on militants before anyone else is freed — a blow to a cease-fire that has drastically reduced bloodshed.

According to the cease-fire terms, Israel pledged to hand over five West Bank towns to Palestinian control and free 900 prisoners. However, Israel stopped the process after two towns were turned over and 500 prisoners freed, charging that the Palestinians were not fulfilling their obligations — stopping all violence and disarming militants in towns under their control.

The decision overnight followed a declaration last week that Israel would not hand over three more West Bank towns to Palestinian control for a similar reason — a claim that Palestinians have not moved against militants in the two towns they took over patrolling since the February 8 truce. Palestinians charged that Israel is stalling. Israel is holding about 8,000 Palestinian prisoners. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Israel of stonewalling.

"It seems to me that they will not release the prisoners, they will not hand over the areas, they will not end the question of the fugitives," Mr Erekat said. Instead of imposing delays, he said, Israel should "expedite this process and give peace a chance," he said. Palestinian cabinet minister Ghassan Khatib cautioned that Mr Sharon's policies "would only lead to the collapse of the recent cease-fire". "We won't strengthen Mr Abbas at the expense of Israeli lives," Mr Sharon was quoted as saying.

Also, Israeli police prepared for demonstrations later on Monday in Jerusalem because of rumours that Jewish extremists would try to enter a hotly disputed holy site, where the Al Aqsa Mosque compound sits atop the ruins of the biblical Jewish Temples. In a statement, police said they would prevent the Jews from entering the site, but hundreds of Muslims were already gathering there late Sunday to confront them. A similar demonstration planned by the Jewish extremists a month ago fizzled.

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