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Israel Frees Palestinian Prisoners As Gesture to Abbas

Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Monday, December 3, 2007

Israel Frees Palestinian Prisoners As Gesture to Abbas

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel freed 429 Palestinian security prisoners on Monday as part of the ongoing effort to bolster Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel made the decision to release only those prisoners who have not killed Israelis. Nevertheless, some of them are linked to attempted terror attacks.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the peace process goes beyond summit meetings and "has to be reinforced by practical measures on the ground."

P.A. Minister of Prisoner Affairs Ashraf Al-Ajrami said in a radio interview in Hebrew that while the P.A. welcomed every prisoner release, it wanted to see thousands of Palestinians released from Israeli jails as a result of negotiations on a permanent status agreement.

Israel is holding some 9,000 Palestinians in prison for terror-related offenses, and Abbas reportedly wanted 2,000 of them freed.

Releasing thousands, not hundreds, of Palestinian security prisoners would be an important step in strengthening Abbas and everyone who wants peace, Al-Ajrami said.

Most of the prisoners released on Monday belonged to Abbas' Fatah faction and will return to the West Bank.

This is Israel's second prisoner release in the last few months.

One Israeli commentator said Israel is most concerned about the freed prisoners committing additional terrorist acts, as has happened in the past. (See earlier story)

On Sunday, the Israeli security services said that two Palestinian Authority policemen were part of a terrorist cell that murdered an Israeli civilian in a drive-by shooting in the West Bank two weeks ago.

Two of those responsible had been arrested by Israel and had admitted to carrying out the attack. A third cell member was later arrested by the P.A. security forces.

According to a radio report, the weapons used in the attack that had been transferred to the P.A. for securing law and order in the West Bank.

The U.S., with Israel's approval, has been involved in efforts to bolster forces that are loyal to Abbas. Critics of the move have argued that previous efforts of this kind only helped to train and better equip the Palestinians for future attacks against Israel. (See earlier story)

On Sunday, Palestinian terrorists launched at least 14 mortar shells at Israel, hitting an army base and lightly wounding four soldiers. Israel targeted a rocket launching cell.

During the month of November, Palestinian terrorists launched some 240 Kassam rockets and mortars at Israel, the army said.