Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Israel to Free 200 Prisoners in Gesture to Abbas - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page
Palestinian militants from the Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades military wing take part in a training exercise in Beit Hanun in the Northern Gaza Strip (AFP)

Palestinian militants from the Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades military wing take part in a training exercise in Beit Hanun in the Northern Gaza Strip (AFP)

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel’s cabinet voted on Sunday to release some 200 Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture to president Mahmud Abbas, in a bid to bolster slow-moving US-backed peace talks.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev called the move a “confidence-building measure” towards Abbas, saying “we hope the release will help strengthen the peace process.”

A senior government official told AFP that the list, which will be considered for final approval by a ministerial committee on Monday, includes two veteran prisoners implicated in deadly attacks on Israelis in the 1970s.

The two are an exception to Israel’s general long-standing refusal to release those with “blood on their hands,” but the official said the security establishment “believes the risk of the release is very low.”

Israel had first announced the move on August 6 following a face-to-face meeting between Olmert and Abbas, the latest in a series of discussions held since they relaunched peace talks at a US-hosted conference in November.

Once the ministerial committee approves the decision, Israelis will have several days to appeal against the release of individual prisoners before the actual release takes place on August 25.

There are currently more than 11,000 Palestinians jailed in Israel, including at least 85 women and children, and 11 seriously ill people, according to the Palestinian Authority.

The gesture is widely seen as a way of boosting Abbas against the rival Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, and the Lebanese Hezbollah Shiite militia.

“I prefer to release Palestinian prisoners to president Mahmud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad than to Hamas,” Housing Minister Zeev Boim told AFP shortly before voting for the move.

In July Hezbollah celebrated what it called a major victory when it traded the bodies of two Israeli soldiers for five Lebanese prisoners and the remains of some 200 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters.

Hamas has been trying to secure a similar deal to swap Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, seized in a deadly cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip in June 2006, for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Sunday’s move drew criticism from some leaders who feared it would undermine efforts to free Shalit.

“This is a wrong decision. It’s outrageous because it reduces the chances of bringing Gilad Shalit home,” Trade and Industry Minister Eli Yishai told AFP.

The senior government official insisted, however, that none of those set to be freed was included in the list of prisoners Hamas demands to be released and that the move would not undermine efforts to recover Shalit.

Palestinian women hold up framed portraits of relatives jailed in Israel during a sit in to demand their release held in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus (AFP)

Palestinian women hold up framed portraits of relatives jailed in Israel during a sit in to demand their release held in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus (AFP)

An acrobat shows off her skills during a joint show by the Palestinian circus school and the Danish Goglerskolen circus during a performance in East Jerusalem (AFP)

An acrobat shows off her skills during a joint show by the Palestinian circus school and the Danish Goglerskolen circus during a performance in East Jerusalem (AFP)

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

More Posts

Follow Me:
FacebookGoogle PlusYouTube