Palestinians to push for release of 1,000 prisoners

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Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s top priority is to secure the release of more than 1,000 prisoners held by Israel, an official said Thursday ahead of a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

“Abbas’s instructions, correspondence and political meetings aim at making concerted efforts to free 107 prisoners arrested before 1994,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said in a statement, referring to those jailed before the signing of the Oslo accords.

“This is in addition to the release of 1,000 other prisoners, which was agreed on in a deal between Abbas and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and of 15 who were re-arrested after the [Gilad] Shalit prisoner swap,” he said, referring to an Israeli soldier held by Hamas for more than five years.

Palestinian leaders are currently preparing for a top-level visit by Obama as part of a three-day tour that will begin in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

Obama is scheduled to hold talks with Abbas at the Palestinian leader’s political headquarters in Ramallah on March 21, then visit Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity the following day, Palestinian officials said on Thursday.

Obama will be accompanied by Secretary of State John Kerry, who said in February he was intent on giving $700 million (540 million euros) in aid to Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, $495 million of which has been blocked for months by Congress.

The Palestinian Authority is currently living through its worst financial crisis since its creation in 1994, caused by the non-delivery of aid promised by the U.S. and Arab countries, as well as Israel’s blocking of monthly tax monies it collects on behalf of the PA.

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