Palestinian Minister of Prisoner and Ex-Prisoner Affairs, Sufian Abu Zaida, commented that Sharon is ‘trying to make the release of 400 Palestinian prisoners who were supposed to be released two months ago according to Sharm Al-Sheikh agreement sound like a huge concession.’

‘Israel released 500 prisoners three months ago, as part of the agreement to release 900 prisoners, but has arrested over 500 during the last three months, which means that the number of prisoners is still the same,’ stated Abu Zaida.

Abu Zaida also maintained that the remaining 400 prisoners are hostages, because they should have been released two months ago.

Abu Zaida went on to say that the PA had hoped that Israel would release the 400 prisoners prior to the upcoming summit meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. President George W. Bush, scheduled for this Thursday in Washington.

‘We hoped Sharon would release the 400 prisoners ahead of the Bush-Abbas summit in an attempt to mitigate expected pressure from the U.S. to offer some good-will gestures towards the Palestinians,’ Abu Zaida said.

He asserted that the joint Israeli-Palestinian committee will not meet again, since these meetings always result in further delays in the implemention of agreements and haggling over the conditions for release.

‘The joint committee will not meet again for talks. We informed the Israeli side at the last meeting, the outcome of which was apparent beforehand, that if meetings continue in this way, we will not meet again, because we do not want to hear over and over ‘we will not release prisoners’,’ Abu Zaida stated, adding ‘If you want to come up with new concepts and ways to deal with the issue, we are ready to listen. However, if you have no intention of revising the release criteria, there is no need for meetings and discussions’

Abu Zaida explained that the disturbances at the Negev desert prison on Tuesday were caused by the prison administration’s construction of a new section described by some prisoners as a very bad facility. Clashes with the soldiers erupted when they attempted to move some prisoners to the new section.

He remarked that no official accredited report on this incident has been received.