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PA, Hamas reject cabinet vote on approval of prisoner release (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Gideon Alon, Arnon Regular and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents, and Haaretz Service and Agencies 07/06/03 20:41 (GMT+3) Source: http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/314691.html
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The Palestinian Authority and Hamas announced Sunday that the cabinet vote to approve the release of Palestinian prisoners whose identity will be determined by a ministerial committee, according to criteria recommended by the Shin Bet security services, was insufficient.
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Palestinian Authority Security Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan rejected the criteria agreed upon by the government.
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A senior Hamas official said that the organization was demandeing the release of all prisoners, especially those who are members of the organization. A senior member of Islamic Jihad said that the cabinet decision was a Zionist maneuver.
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Senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad members warned that if all prisoners, including their members would not be released, they would consider ending the cease-fire that they called last week.
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Prior to the 13-9 approval of the proposal, the cabinet had reached a deadlock at first, with 10 supporting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon´s proposal to approve the Shin Bet´s criteria and 10 opposing. But Justice Minister Yosef (Tommy) Lapid convinced Science and Technology Minister Eliezer (Mody) Sandberg to change his vote to support the release.
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After the failure of the cabinet to approve the proposal in the first vote, Lapid (Shinui) said that if the ministers were to leave without approving the proposal, the stink would spread the world over, Israel Radio reported. Lapid said such a failure would end the peace process, and asked for a private conference with Sandberg, after the latter had abstained from the first vote. Sandberg said that he would support the proposal only if the words "on the condition that the Palestinian side upholds the agreement" were added to the decision.
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The sides agreed on the addition to the proposal, and afterwards Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Absorption Minister Tzipi Livni joined Sandberg in voting in favor. In the first round of voting, Netanyahu had voted against the proposal, while Livni had abstained.
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The cabinet also approved the criteria set out by Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, who presented a list of several hundred prisoners to Sharon ahead of the cabinet´s weekly meeting. The list does not include prisoners who have been convicted of the murder of Israelis, or any belonging to militant groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Prisoners whom security sources think may return to terror activities will also be kept off the list.
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Sharon told the cabinet before the discussion and vote that no Palestinian prisoner who murdered Israeli civilians will be released. The cabinet began debating the issue after Sharon outlined the criteria for releasing prisoners.
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However, the Israeli criteria do not meet Palestinian expectations, and that difference might be great enough to lead to an end of the still-fragile cease-fire agreement. A senior Palestinian Authority official said Sunday that the PA would break off from the cease-fire agreement if Israel decides not to release Hamas or Islamic Jihad prisoners who have blood on their hands.
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Hisham Abd al-Raziq, the Palestinian minister in charge of overseeing the release of the Palestinian detainees, said Sunday morning that the prisoner release issue was a potential deal-breaker, and that if Israel did not release all the Palestinian prisoners whom the PA wants let out, the Palestinians would see the cease-fire as broken.
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In an interview with Army Radio, Abd al-Raziq said that "from our point of view, this is the most important issue and Israel has to decide, in principle, that it will release all of them, and carry out the decision gradually."
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"If there will be a decision that one of the criteria is not to release Hamas or Jihad prisoners with blood on their hands, we cannot be part of this deal. We will leave the cease-fire," he said. Hamas and Islamic Jihad also said that if Israel wouldn´t release prisoners from their organizations, they would also see the cease-fire as over.
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However, Israel has made it clear that it would only release Palestinian detainees who do not have blood on their hands and who are not affiliated with any terror organization.
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About 6,000 Palestinians are being held in Israeli jails for security- and non-security-related offenses. Of those, about 2,000 have "blood on their hands," 720 are Hamas members, 344 belong to the Islamic Jihad and 136 to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
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Committee calls for judicial criteria for prisoner release
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At a meeting of the Knesset´s Law, Justice and Constitution Committee on Sunday morning, coalition head MK Gideon Sa´ar (Likud) criticized the government for planning to release security prisoners without outlining judicial criteria for such a move. According to him, the release of security detainees is not just a political issue, but also one with judicial aspects.
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He proposed that the Law, Justice and Constitution Committee look into the criteria taken into consideration by the executive committee with regard to the prisoner release.
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Judge Advocate General Menahem Finkelstein stressed Sunday that the focal point of the decision to release the prisoners was judicial. "The setting of criteria is a definite legal issue, and the probability that some prisoners will be released and others won´t is a clear judicial issue," the JAG said.
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AG urges two days´ notice of prisoners´ identities
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Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein demanded Saturday that the government give 48 hours´ notice of the identities of Palestinian prisoners set to be freed, to allow families of terror victims to petition the High Court of Justice against the release.
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In a letter sent Saturday to Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, Rubinstein demanded that judicial officials be notified of the list, so that they can prepare for the possibility of petitions to the High Court. He added that clear criteria should be set that would prevent the release of prisoners who have been freed in the past but then re-arrested. (© Copyright 2003 Haaretz. 07/06/03)
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