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Abbas to demand release of 8,000 Palestians prisoners (JERUSALEM POST) By HERB KEINON AND JPOST STAFF 01/31/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1107055729660 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has already prepared his list of demands to present when he meets with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on February 8, Palestinian sources said.

The PA leader will demand the release of 8,000 Palestinian prisoners, IDF withdrawal to its pre-intifada positions (before September 28, 2000), bilateral coordination of disengagement and Israeli commitment to a cease-fire agreement.

Sources close to the PA chairman told London-based daily A-Shark al- Sawat that next week´s meeting is not a renewal of negotiations between the two sides, as circumstances have not yet ripened for peace talks. The Palestinian sources noted that they did not expect Sharon to accede to all the demands, but hoped for some concessions and for US pressure on Israel.

Anticipating Abbas´s requests, Israel´s army chief met Monday morning with senior officers to discuss the scope and timing of a release of Palestinian prisoners, defense officials said.

IDF officials said that Israel has already agreed to the release of 900 prisoners "without blood on their hands," ie., who are not directly involved in deaths of Israelis, before Abbas has even served his demand, Israel Radio reported.

Meanwhile, Sharon´s chief aid Dov Weisglass is slated to meet US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President George W. Bush´s new National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley on Monday, carrying a dual message: Abbas is making the right moves, but they are still not sufficient to warrant permanent settlement discussions.

In what is viewed as a signal of the focus the new Bush Administration will place on the Middle East, Rice – only confirmed last Thursday as secretary of state – will already be coming to the region on Monday for 24 hours for talks with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Israel´s decision to curtail its military operations, a decision Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz presented to the cabinet at its weekly meeting Sunday, is widely viewed as tied to Weisglass´ visit to Washington, with Israel wanting to present the new US team with positive gestures, and show that Jerusalem is taking significant steps to help Abbas assert control.

At the same time, Weisglass is expected to tell the US administration that there can be no permanent settlement talks until there is a permanent Palestinian commitment to stop violence – a requirement that a ´hudna´, an internal Palestinian cease-fire, does not fulfill.

Israel is increasingly concerned by messages it is picking up from Europe that both sides must now take advantage of the current "window of opportunity" to "jump-start" the negotiations.

Israel´s message to Washington, one official said, "is not to be intoxicated by the new smell of peace in the air."

Weisglass is expected to tell Rice and Hadley that even with the current lull in the violence, there can be no short-cuts through the Road Map, and Israel still expects that the Palestinians will carry out their commitments under the plan´s first phase, which means stopping terror, violence and incitement by arresting terrorists, confiscating weapons and destroying bomb, mortar and Kassam manufacturing factories.

Rice´s trip to Israel will precede by two days the Sharon-Abbas summit which is expected on February 8. In addition to Rice, the foreign ministers of France, Switzerland and Canada will all be arriving early next week, as will EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 01/31/05)

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