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Restart of talks uncertain as Palestinian prime minister skips Israeli meeting

Salam Fayyad did not attend a scheduled meeting Tuesday with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Other senior Palestinian officials delivered a letter to Netanyahu with a list of demands before talks can resume.

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Palestinian officials have confirmed that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas withdrew a threat in earlier drafts of the letter to resort to dissolve the Palestinian Authority.

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The authority was formed in the 1990s as an interim step toward independence for the Palestinians.

Both sides would suffer if the Palestinian Authority were dissolved. Tens of thousands of Palestinian civil servants and security forces would lose their jobs, and Israel, as an occupying power, would be placed in charge of running the West Bank again.

At the urging of President Barack Obama, Israel and the Palestinians relaunched peace talks in September 2010 at the White House. The talks collapsed several weeks later after a limited Israeli freeze on settlement construction expired.

Early this year, the sides held low-level talks under the mediation of neighboring Jordan. Those talks stalled in continued disagreement over the settlement issue.

Further complicating peace efforts, Gaza is now controlled by the militant Hamas, which rejects peace with Israel. Reconciliation efforts between Abbas' Fatah movement and Hamas have repeatedly stalled.

In an interview with the al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar accused Abbas of "providing the Israeli side nothing but concessions." He said the letter was a "trick" to fool the Palestinian people that "something is going on in the so-called peace process."

Tuesday's meeting came as the Palestinians marked their annual day of solidarity with Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Some 3,500 prisoners refused meals on "Prisoners' Day," and 1,200 of them said they would continue with an open-ended hunger strike, according to Israeli prison service spokeswoman Sivan Weizman.

The day's activities coincided with the release of the longest hunger striker in Palestinian history.

Khader Adnan, who did not eat for 66 days, was freed late Tuesday as part of a deal reached with Israel.

The fate of the roughly 4,000 prisoners held by Israel is one of the most emotional issues for Palestinians. They are generally seen as heroes — even when their crimes have involved killing Israeli civilians.

Also Tuesday, the Palestinians' Independent Commission for Human Rights said in its annual report for 2011 that rival West Bank and Gaza governments both violated their people's rights.

Director Ahmed Harb said more than 100 Palestinians said they were tortured by security forces, and journalists said they faced restrictions.

Harb said in the West Bank, people were denied government jobs or fired because of loyalties to groups, especially Hamas. Also, in some cases security services ignored rulings to release prisoners.

In Gaza, Harb complained that Hamas officials were implementing the death penalty.

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