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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 July, 2003, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
Palestinians warn of crisis
 Palestinian man shouts slogans while holding a portrait of his imprisoned son during a demonstration in support of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, 21 July 2003 in Gaza City
The Palestinians are demanding more prisoner releases
The Palestinians have reacted angrily to reports that Israel has decided to exclude members of the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad from its next release of Palestinian prisoners.

Israel's public radio said the government was sticking with a decision not to free the militants, after a series of discussions with Israeli security chiefs and Palestinian officials.

The Palestinian Minister for Prisoners' Affairs, Hisham Abdel-Razek, said the decision would "lead the political process to a dead-end".

It comes as Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas - also known as Abu Mazen - prepared to leave for a trip to Washington, where he is due to hold talks with US President George W Bush on Friday.

The Palestinians have been pressing Israel to release members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, saying it would help them win public support for the US-brokered peace process, known as the roadmap.

Both groups agreed to a three-month ceasefire on 29 June, but it was conditional on the release of an estimated 6,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Pressure on PM

The Israeli Government has decided to free no more than the 350 Palestinians whose release had already been approved by parliament, the radio report said.

An Israeli ministerial commission had previously agreed to review the cases of another 100 prisoners "belonging to terrorist organisations", the radio reported.

Analysts say Abu Mazen is under pressure to win some concrete results when he meets Mr Bush on Friday.

He will face a confidence vote from Palestinian legislators when he returns from Washington, the Associated Press has quoted the Palestinian information minister as saying.

Nabil Amr said the legislature planned to convene "to discuss his progress on the political level".

Abu Mazen was appointed to the newly-created post of prime minister in April, following pressure from the US and Israel.

Both the US and Israel have refused to negotiate with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, blaming him for not reigning in militants.

During Mr Bush's talks with Abu Mazen, and with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - scheduled for next week in Washington - the US president will be pressing both sides to take the steps outlined in the peace plan known as the roadmap.

The peace plan envisages a Palestinian state by 2005.

The Palestinians see the prisoner releases as a key part of the plan, but Israel sees it as a goodwill gesture rather than an obligation.

Israel and the Palestinians



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