JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Israel has decided to delay the release of 230 Palestinian prisoners until Dec. 15, a week later than planned, Israeli and Palestinian officials said on Monday.
Saeb Erekat, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the delay stemmed from legal issues on the Israeli side. But Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the delay had been coordinated with Abbas, who was attending the haj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
The prisoners make up only a fraction of the 11,000 Palestinians held by Israel. The release, meant as a goodwill gesture to Abbas, had been scheduled for Tuesday to coincide with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
Israel announced last month that it would free 250 prisoners, but officials said a ministerial committee on Sunday approved a list of only 230 names.
Olmert’s office said the prisoners would come from the ranks of Abbas’s Fatah secular faction and other non-Islamist groups.
Such releases are highly emotive for Palestinians, who regard prisoners as symbols of resistance to Israeli occupation.
Israel freed nearly 200 prisoners in August.
U.S.-sponsored peace talks between Olmert and Abbas, rejected by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, have shown little sign of progress.