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Abbas signs international conventions, jeopardizing peace moves

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat (L) helps Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as he signs international conventions during a meetin
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat (L) helps Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as he signs international conventions during a meetin

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed more than a dozen international conventions on Tuesday citing anger at Israel's delay of a prisoner release, in a move jeopardized U.S. efforts to salvage fragile peace talks.

His unexpected decision came just a day before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had been due to travel to Ramallah for talks aimed at finalizing a complex, three-way deal that would enable the talks to continue into 2015.

However, a U.S. official said that trip would not now go ahead.

Abbas had pledged not seek to join world bodies during the U.S.-brokered negotiations, that are scheduled to run until the end of April and that have made little apparent headway.

Israel had promised in exchange to free more than 100 prisoners by the end of March, but failed to release the final batch, saying it wanted guarantees that the Palestinians would extend the negotiations beyond the April 29 deadline.

In his remarks to Palestinian leaders in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Abbas made clear he was not abandoning the negotiations, but blasted Israel's delay in freeing prisoners.

"We are not doing this against America, but we still don't see other ways forward," Abbas said, before signing a packet of papers Palestinian officials said included 15 conventions of international and U.N. groups.

Precise details of what he had signed were not given.

"We don't see any reason not to go and sign these agreements, with the knowledge that we are on the path to reaching an agreement through talks and through peaceful popular resistance," Abbas said.

A Palestinian official insisted that Abbas was not abandoning negotiations with Israel.

"He have told the Israelis to stop playing their games," the official said, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity. He added that Abbas had been "very disappointed" that all the prisoners had not been released.

The issue of Palestinians jailed by Israel is an emotive one in Palestinian society, and freedom for the inmates helps boost Palestinian support for Abbas's peace seeking efforts against popular Islamist groups opposed to reconciling with Israel.

For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the prisoner release is a difficult step politically, with far-right coalition partners angry at setting free inmates convicted of committing lethal attacks.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta, Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Crispian Balmer)

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