JERUSALEM – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asked President Bush during his White House meeting today to pressure Israel into releasing from prison the alleged architect of the 2000 intifada and founder of one of the most deadly Middle Eastern terror groups, a senior Palestinian official involved with the talks told WND.
“Abbas asked [Bush] for several things, including the freezing of Israeli settlement activity and to help with the release of our prisoners,” said the official, speaking just minutes after the conclusion of the White House meeting. “A special request was made for Israel to release [convicted terrorist Marwan] Barghouti.”
Abbas met Bush for one hour today in a summit many say was designed to boost the Palestinian leader’s popularity ahead of January legislative elections in which Hamas is expected to run.
During a joint news conference after the meeting, Bush heaped praise on Abbas, saying he was a “heck of a lot more confident” of peace prospects with Abbas in charge.
Bush also called on Abbas to disarm Palestinian terror groups he said are threatening the “creation of a democratic Palestine” and said Israel should halt construction of new Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
The Palestinian official said Bush agreed to take into consideration the request to pressure Israel into releasing Barghouti and other Palestinian prisoners.
Barghouti, a founder of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, is serving multiple life terms in an Israeli prison for his role in the killings of four Israelis and a Greek monk. Israel accuses Barghouti of planning the Palestinian intifada that erupted in 2000 after PLO leader Yasser Arafat turned down a comprehensive Israeli peace offer at Camp David that year. Barghouti is suspected of planning dozens of suicide bombings and shooting attacks.
Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat, also speaking to WND minutes after the conclusion of the Bush-Abbas meeting, confirmed a request was made for Bush to help in freeing Palestinian prisoners.
“I will not comment on whether Barghouti was singled out, but yes, gaining the freedom of prisoners in Israeli cells was on today’s agenda,” said Erekat.
Barghouti this week announced from prison his plans to run in the upcoming Palestinian elections. Palestinian Minister for Prisoner Affairs Sufian Abu Zaida said Barghouti would be on the list of candidates from Abba’s Fatah party for a possible parliamentary seat.
Last year, there were a series of media reports Israel may release Barghouti in a prisoner exchange that also would involve the U.S. freeing imprisoned Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.
Pollard told WND at the time he was “completely opposed” to the possibility of being released alongside Barghouti, whom he refers to as “a mass murderer of Jews.”
Pollard also quoted reports, which he said were confirmed to him by sources in Israel, that the Jewish state held a series of clandestine meetings with Barghouti regarding the possibility of the convicted terrorist running in elections.
Erekat told WND Israel should free Barghouti.
“Israel had no jurisdiction to arrest a Palestinian official and try him in Israel,” said Erekat. “He should be released.”