Some Palestinian prisoners to be released - Israeli minister
Israel is to release some Palestinian prisoners as part of efforts to restart peace talks, an Israeli minister said Saturday, dpa reported.
US Secretary of State John Kerry announced in Amman on Friday that the Israelis and Palestinians had agreed to enter peace talks starting next week in Washington.
Yuval Steinitz, the minister for intelligence, international relations and strategic affairs, told Israel Radio that the prisoners were "serious cases" but had already spent many years behind bars.
He did not, however, say how many of them would be freed, the Israel Times reported.
Steinitz emphasized that Israel was not bound to a freeze on settlement activities. "There is no chance that we will agree to enter into negotiations that begin by defining our territorial borders and possible concessions, or a construction freeze," he was quoted as saying.
In Cairo, Egypt's new foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, called on Israel to take "confidence-building measures" ahead of next week's negotiations.
"Egypt will continue to give a top priority to the Palestinian cause and support the Palestinian people's right to have an independent state," said Fahmy, a former ambassador to Washington.
Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Jordan followed in 1984.
Meanwhile, several Palestinian groups on Saturday said they opposed the resumption of direct peace talks with Israel after more than two years.
The Islamist movement Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip said the resumption of direct peace talks with Israel "is very dangerous."
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' decision to resume the talks with Israel "contradicts the national consensus that the Palestinians agreed upon."
He added: "Resuming the talks only serves the occupation and gives it a cover for its settlement expansion."
Kerry said Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni are set to open the discussions in the US, but he refused to divulge details on the negotiation framework.
He praised Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for making "courageous choices" to return to the negotiation table.
The breakthrough came on Kerry's sixth official visit this year to the Middle East, and the second in less than a month.
Jamil Mezher, spokesman of the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said the move "causes severe harm to the Palestinian cause."
He added that "twenty years of absurd negotiations with Israel achieved a big zero, and only helped Israel to execute its plans of expansion."
Mustafa Barghouti, chairman of the Palestinian Initiative Party, said the talks will fail "because the current Israeli government is a government of settlers and it would never recognize the legal Palestinian right of independence, of ending the occupation and of self-determination".