Israel agrees prisoner release plan

Israeli PM hopes amnesties will bolster Palestinian government in the West Bank.

    Israel's amnesty is seen as move
    to strengthen Mahmoud Abbas [EPA]

    She said Olmert would present the final list of prisoners to be released to a ministerial committee on Tuesday and that the releases could begin as early as Friday after a 48-hour legal review.
    Israel has described its decisions to free 250 low-security Palestinian prisoners, mostly from Abbas's Fatah faction, as a goodwill gesture that could prompt peace talks.
    Meanwhile, more than 10,000 Palestinian prisoners are thought to be held in Israeli jails, many without charge.
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    Israel has also suspended kill-or-capture missions against 180 Fatah armed members.
    An Israeli government official said about 100 of the 180 Fatah members who were given an amnesty have already turned in their guns and signed pledges not to carry out attacks against Israelis.
    Salam Fayyad, an economist named by Abbas as Palestinian prime minister, urged Israel to move beyond gestures towards crafting a two-state solution.
    "In order to rebuild the faith of the Palestinian and Israeli publics in the peace process, we must tackle the short term and long term simultaneously," Fayyad said in an interview with Israel's Haaretz newspaper.
    Fayyad was named by Abbas as prime minister to replace Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader, after Hamas took control of Gaza.
    Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, said it was "shameful" for Abbas to meet Olmert while refusing to resume talks with Hamas, which took control of the Gaza Strip last month.
    About 1.5 million Palestinians are under Hamas rule in Gaza.
    Israel has already eased financial restrictions with the Palestinian government in the West Bank, while tightening the economic and security cordon around the Gaza Strip.
    Later in the day, George Bush, the US president, is due to deliver a speech in Washington that a senior aide said would reassert his support for Fatah leading the way to a Palestinian state coexisting with Israel.
    The aide said Bush will also speak about the role of Tony Blair as new envoy for the Quartet of Middle East mediators - the US, the EU, the UN and Russia - which convenes on Thursday.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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