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Abbas Demands Israel Free Jailed Hamas Officials
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Demands were made of Israel Tuesday by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that they release jailed Hamas lawmakers and ministers before the formation of a new, national-unity Palestinian government.

Abbas made the appeal in a news conference with visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos in the Gaza Strip after they'd held talks.
"Before forming the new government Israel has to release ministers, deputies and mayors who were held recently," Abbas told the reporters.

Abbas said he expected a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister adding that if it did take place it had to be well-prepared and the issue of Palestinian prisoners had to be thoroughly discussed. 

An Israeli military court on Tuesday ruled that some of the detained Palestinian Hamas officials would be released but the decision wasn’t being followed through until Thursday to allow prosecutors to appeal, Israel Defense Forces told Xinhua.

Israeli forces took at least 30 Hamas officials, among them Palestinian cabinet ministers and lawmakers, into custody after an Israeli soldier was abducted in the Gaza Strip by Palestinian gunmen in June.

Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Nasser al-Shaer, arrested in late August, was  among the detainees. Four other ministers were detained and then released.

Abbas also told reporters that the fate of around 10,000 Palestinians detained in Israel would feature on the agenda of talks at any future meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

However, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas Tuesday poured cold water on any hopes a new Palestinian unity government might seek peace talks with Israel.

Israel and the United States have responded skeptically to the planned unity coalition agreed by Haniyeh and President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday as a way to lift a Western aid boycott imposed on the Hamas-led government in March.

The European Union has been more positive believing it could re-energize the Middle East peace process.

Asked by Reuters if the new administration would negotiate with the Jewish state Haniyeh said: "No. Negotiations have to do with the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) and not with the government."

Previous peace talks with Israel have been conducted by the PLO which until the Hamas militant movement took power was seen as having the same interests as the government.

(Xinhua News Agency, China Daily September 13, 2006)

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