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Israeli minister casts doubt on pledged Palestinian prisoner release
Israeli minister casts doubt on pledged Palestinian prisoner release
Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett (L) with fellow MK Mordechi Yogev during a party meeting (Photo:
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AFP - The pledge to free 26 Palestinian prisoners this month will definitely not include Arab Israelis and may not even take place at all, an Israeli minister told army radio.

Economy minister Naftali Bennett, an outspoken hardliner who opposes a Palestinian state, said Israel's pledge to release them was unlikely to happen because there had been no move in the US-led peace process,

And if it did, the government would never agree to release Arab Israeli citizens jailed for nationalist attacks, he said.

The Palestinians have reportedly named 14 Arab Israelis they want freed, but all names must be approved by the Israeli government.

His remarks were made a day after Abbas told US President Barack Obama that releasing the prisoners would be a good step to demonstrate Israel's seriousness about the peace process.

Qadura Fares, head of the Ramallah-based Prisoner's Club, said the upcoming release was crucial.

"The Palestinians are adamant on this point. The prisoners must be released on time," he told Voice of Palestine radio.

As part of a goodwill gesture to the Palestinian negotiators, the Israeli occupation has released so far 78 out of 104 veteran Palestinian prisoners in two separate batches in August and October 2013, with the final group due to be released on March 29.

The so-called peace talks between the PA and the Israeli occupation resumed in July 2013 after a 3-year-long stalemate conditioned that a final-status resolution to the Israeli-Arab conflict be reached within nine months.

ALRAY contributed to this report.