Israel will try to complete the handover of Abu Dis and two other villages near Jerusalem to full Palestinian control before Prime Minister Ehud Barak leaves for a US visit, but a Palestinian plea to release more than 200 security prisoners is likely to be rejected, a senior Israeli source was quoted Thursday by Haaretz as saying.
According to AFP, the Israeli decision to transfer power of the three Jerusalem villages to the Palestinian Authority was described Friday by the Palestinian government as "a step in the right direction."
"Despite Israel's lack of respect for its engagements taken in the accords, its decision to place under the control of the Palestinians Abu Dis, El-Azarieh and Suwahara is a step in the right direction," the cabinet said in a statement published after its weekly meeting here.
The decision to transfer control was taken Monday, although Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak delayed its application because of a wave of violence in the Palestinian territories.
The villages are currently in area B of the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority already has civilian rule but where Israel maintains security control.
Palestinians want to make the eastern sector of Jerusalem, which Israel captured and annexed from Jordan in 1967, the capital of a future independent state.
Israel, however, claims all of the city to be its united capital, a position not recognized by the international community.
However, the Israeli source told the Israeli daily that Barak has demanded that the Palestinians conduct an investigation into recent violent demonstrations, marked by gun battles between Israeli and Palestinian forces, before he orders a go-ahead for the transfer of the three villages.
Senior Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat told senior Israeli officials Tuesday the Palestinian Authority was working to gain control over the Palestinian street, and promised that Israel would get an answer concerning the probe of the bloodshed, according to the report.
Palestinian anger over the pace of prisoner releases has been a main catalyst for recent mass demonstrations in the territories, said Haaretz. But the Israeli source said of the list of more than 200 security prisoners the PA has asked Israel to free: "There are very few prisoners, if any, that we can release. Most of the names on the list are 'heavy' prisoners, with blood on their hands, whom it's impossible to release without changing the criteria."
Government guidelines, which the cabinet updated after the Sharm el Sheikh agreement, bar the release of prisoners who murdered Israelis, or who belong to Hamas or other groups opposed to the peace process.
A coalition of Palestinian activist groups working for prisoner releases has demanded that Israel free all jailed Palestinians convicted before the September, 1983 signing of the landmark Israeli-PLO peace accord.
The coalition dismissed as illogical Israel's refusal to release Palestinians convicted of murder prior to the peace deal, saying the killings had been carried out under the orders of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
The coalition includes Arafat's Fatah as well as Hamas and other Palestinian opposition groups. Coalition leaders have declared today and tomorrow to be "Days of Rage" They urged Palestinians to return to the streets to demonstrate on the prisoners' behalf – (Several Sources)
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