RAMALLAH, March 30 (Xinhua) -- The release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, who were due to be freed on Saturday, caused a new round of crisis between Israel and Palestine.
Eassa Qaraqe'a, the Palestinian minister of prisoners' affairs, revealed in a statement to "Voice of Palestine" Radio that Monday would be the deadline that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave Israel to declare a final position on the prisoners' release.
The two sides traded challenges on the weekend in relation to the release of last batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners who were detained in Israeli jails before Israel and the Palestinians signed Oslo peace accords in 1993.
"The ball is now in the Israeli playground," said Qaraqe'a, adding "Israel is clearly escaping from a previous commitment," referring to the U.S.-sponsored agreement to release 104 prisoners for the resumption of the peace negotiations last July. Israel has already freed 78 of them.
The Palestinian official threatened that the Palestinian leadership would carry out substantial decisions related to the peace process and the negotiations if "Israel doesn't free the last batch of prisoners."
Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, said in an emailed statement that the doors haven't been shut down yet, adding "it is an Israeli commitment, and Israel must sooner or later free the prisoners."
He stressed that the Palestinians refused to link between the prisoners' release and the extension of the U.S.-sponsored peace talks that are due to end in late April.
Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian official said Saturday that Israel rejected Abbas' proposal to free 400 prisoners in Israeli jails for extending the direct peace talks with Israel.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Xinhua that Abbas proposed to the U.S. that if Israel frees 400 prisoners, including leaders, women and children, he will accept the extension of the peace talks.
Mohamed Ishteya, a Palestinian negotiator, accused Israel for trying to oblige the Palestinians to pay more heavy prices for the release of the last batch of prisoners. However, he told "Voice of Palestine" Radio that the Palestinians would resist any Israeli blackmail by all means.
"Israel is unfortunately dodging and doesn't want any type of negotiations that lead to an end to its occupation of the Palestinian territories," said Ishteya.
Meanwhile, Israel Radio reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out that Israel would free any Palestinian prisoners before hearing a clear Palestinian position related to the resumption of the peace negotiations, and said that any deal on the release of Palestinian prisoners must get the approval of the Israeli cabinet.