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Israeli Prisoner List Disappoints Palestinians (REUTERS) By Jeffrey Heller JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 08/04/03 01:08 PM ET) Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=3216034
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel on Monday published a list of 342 Palestinian prisoners it plans to free on Wednesday to bolster a U.S.- backed peace plan and reformist Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, but Palestinians cried foul.
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Palestinian officials noted that 31 men were to have completed their sentences this month anyway, and that Israeli officials said earlier 540 would be freed. Palestinians want a general release of all 6,000 of their brethren in Israeli jails.
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"What is this? Is this deception? Are they deceiving nations?" Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said in comments in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
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"This is a complete deception, a trick," said Palestinian Security Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan. "What the Israelis are doing will complicate the peace process and frustrate the peace supporters among the Palestinians."
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In another blow to peace hopes, the local branch of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades militant group in the West Bank city of Tulkarm threatened to break a three-month truce -- but only to avenge the killing of one of its members by Israeli soldiers.
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The Brigades leader in Tulkarm said the local branch would otherwise stick to the cease-fire declared on June 29 by it and Islamic militant groups. Other branches of the fragmented and loosely disciplined Brigades said they would stick to the truce.
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Hamas, pressing demands for all prisoners to be freed, said its patience was running out with Israel and urged other militant groups to be ready to confront the Jewish state.
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"We appeal to all the national and Islamic forces to prepare themselves for a confrontation of the arrogance of that criminal enemy that denied the right of freedom for our hero prisoners," Hamas said in a statement.
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The publication of the prisoners´ names on the Internet was aimed at giving any Israeli opposed to a prisoner´s release time to appeal to Israel´s Supreme Court to keep him in jail.
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Israel gave no explanation why only 342 prisoners -- 183 convicted by Israeli courts of activities ranging from stone-throwing to membership in "terrorist organizations" and 159 detained without trial -- were being released.
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Israel´s Army radio said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could meet Abbas on Wednesday for the first time since their separate talks with President Bush in Washington last month. Neither side confirmed the report.
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Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, responding to a Palestinian shooting attack that wounded a Jewish settler and her three children on Sunday, said there would be no further releases or West Bank pullbacks until Abbas reined in militants.
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The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a group within Arafat´s Fatah movement, said it was behind that attack.
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"For now, we will not transfer any more Palestinian cities until we see that the necessary steps are being taken against the terror and definitely against the group that carried out the shooting," Mofaz told reporters.
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Israeli forces quit Bethlehem in the West Bank last month under the peace plan that envisions an end to almost three years of violence and creation of a Palestinian state by 2005. The road map also calls for dismantling "terrorist infrastructures."
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Militants have said anything short of a general release of all Palestinian prisoners could jeopardize the truce.
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A spokesman for the Organization of Israel Terror Victims, a group representing the families of Israelis wounded or killed in Palestinian attacks, said it was studying the list on the Internet for "any specific names we might object to."
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A statement prefacing the list on the Hebrew-language Web site at http:/list.ips.gov.il said: "It should be emphasized the list does not include any prisoners or detainees with ´blood on their hands´." (© Reuters 2003 08/04/03)
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