Israel to free only 350 Palestinians

Three hundred and fifty Palestinian prisoners have been selected by Israeli security agents for release as part of the peace process – but critics say the numbers fall far short of Palestinian expectations.

Sharon arrives at the cabinet

The decision to release the 350 was taken on Sunday by the Israeli government with a majority cabinet vote of 13 to eight.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the Shin Beth security service to draw up the list after he met with his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, last Tuesday.


But Palestinians were clearly disappointed with the Israeli decision, which fell way short of their demands to release most of the 6,000 to 8,000 prisoners held by Israel.


“This is an insufficient step,” said Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr.     


Under the Isreali plan, Palestinians jailed for orchestrating attacks and members of the Hamas and Islamic Jihan groups will remain in jail. 


As the Israeli cabinet met to decide on the limited release of prioners, some 3,000 protesters gathered outside the local headquarters of the Red Cross in Gaza to demand the release of all prisoners.


“There can be no peace or security without freedom for prisoners,”  shouted the protesters in unison.


The protest was organized by the Palestinian Islamic and National Forces Organisation, which brings together Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement.


Abbas-Yassin talks


The Israeli approval to release the prisoners comes a day after Abbas held talks with Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin.


The talks focused on the issue of prisoners, according to Culture Minister Ziad Abu Amr, who attended the meeting.


Abbas-Yassin talks focussed on
the issue of detainees

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have both said that a three-month truce could be at stake unless Israel frees all Palestinian prisoners.


The truce continues despite the killing of a Palestinian on Thursday and another man on Saturday.


Since resistance groups declared the truce a week ago, there have been only sporadic resistance operations in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.


On Sunday, the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) said they were joining the truce.


Like other resistance groups, the PRC said it would abide by the truce “on condition that Israel frees Palestinian prisoners, ends assassinations, incursions and settlements”.


It also said in a statement that Israel should lift the siege of Arafat.


Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr said Abbas and Sharon would meet in the coming week.


Concerns over fence


Sharon’s wall of shame –  US says
it is concerned

Washington is expected to exert more pressure on Israel to halt the construction of the notorious security wall in the illegally occupied West Bank.


The news was revealed in the New York Times which based its report on sources within the US administration.


US national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, told Sharon during her trip to the Middle east last week to change the route of the wall.


In response, Sharon said it was being built as a response to “security concerns”.


“The very fact that Condi Rice raised the issue of the fence

with Sharon is significant,” an administration official told the

NYT. “We will be back on this issue if things don’t improve.”


Israel began building its 350-km security wall in June last year, saying it would prevent Palestinians from carrying out guerilla operations in Israel.

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