RAMALLAH, Nov. 7 – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denied on Friday that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) is holding political prisoners in its prisons, contrary to what Islamic Hamas movement claims. “We have no political prisoners. Those in jails are held for financial crimes and holding illegal arms,” Abbas told a new conference with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Ramallah.
Rice, who arrived in the region on Thursday, held a one-hour meeting with Abbas at the latter’s office in Ramallah, where it will be the last official meeting between them.
“We discussed issues related to settlements, roadblocks and prisoners in Israeli jails as well as the latest settlers’ attacks on Palestinian farmers in the presence of the Israeli army,” Abbas told reporters.
Abbas continued saying that he briefed Rice on the inter-Palestinian dialogue due to start in Cairo on Nov. 10 which is sponsored by Egypt, adding that “the PNA intends to form an independent Palestinian government.”
“The government we are intending to form will be committed to what the Palestinian Liberation Organization was committed to,” Abbas said. “The dialogue would prepare for holding presidential and legislative elections according to the law.”
Speaking about the peace talks with Israel, Abbas said that the PNA would continue it “until the upcoming elections that will be held apparently on February.”
Abbas called on U.S. president-elect Barack Obama not to waste any time in getting involved in the Israel-Palestinian peace process.
Meanwhile, Rice said after meeting Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Thursday in Herzliya, a year-end target date for an agreement was no longer realistic.
She told reporters that “While we may not yet be at the finish line, I am quite certain that if Palestinians and Israelis stay on the Annapolis course, they are going to cross that finish line and can do so relatively soon.”
Rice warned that Israel’s ongoing settlement construction in the West Bank will hurt peace prospects.
“Settlement activity, both actions and announcements, is damaging” the peace process, Rice said.
Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged at last year’s Annapolis peace summit to try and reach a peace agreement by the end of 2008.
Although formal negotiations resumed at the turn of the year, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino conceded Thursday that the end-of-year deadline was unlikely to be reached.
On Sunday Israeli and Palestinian officials will brief the peace process’s sponsors on the progress they have made and the obstacles which still remain.