Saturday, 20 July 2013

Israel agrees to free 'limited number' of Palestinian prisoners

JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel on Saturday announced it will release some Palestinian prisoners as a "gesture", as the two sides agreed to meet to pave the way for their first direct talks in three years.

The announcement came hours after US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Amman late on Friday that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had laid the groundwork to resume the frozen peace talks.

Kerry said that as a first step Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni would meet him in Washington "to begin initial talks within the next week or so".

The last round of direct talks broke down in 2010 over the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The issue of continued expansion of illegal Jewish settlements remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks between the two sides.

On Saturday, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said his government would engage in the staged release of a "limited number" of prisoners, some of whom have been in Israeli jails for 30 years. more

Gaza construction comes to a halt as siege tightens

Work stopped and concrete mixing machines grew silent, as workers sat in the shade of the incomplete building that is part of the Mahfoud al-Nahnah school project, west of Gaza City. They had expected during the first week of work stoppage that the transportation of goods through the tunnels dug between the Gaza Strip and Egypt would resume — so that building materials could once again enter the Strip, allowing them to complete construction of the school. But, the second week now neared its end without “cement, aggregate and steel” entering the Strip.

Many of the workers vacated the construction site of this public school, commissioned by the Algerian Movement of Society for Peace and named after its leader. Only a few of them remained in addition to the school’s 45-year-old security guard Ahmad Abu Amra, who told Al-Monitor: “Today marks the end of the second week since construction was halted on the school project. The school was supposed to be completed by next April, but nobody now knows when it will open its doors.”

Pointing to the completed first floor and the fence that surrounds the school, Amra added, “Three buildings were supposed to be built — each composed of three floors housing 36 classrooms in which preparatory and primary level courses for girls will be taught. But, this will not become a reality anytime soon.” more