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PA calls prisoner release a ´theatrical step to appease U.S.´ (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Arnon Regular, Amos Harel and Baruch Kra, Haaretz Correspondents, and Agencies 08/06/03 20:28 (GMT+3) Source: http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/326223.html
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A senior Palestinian Authority minister dismissed Israel´s release of over 300 Palestinian prisoners Wednesday afternoon as "a theatrical step to appease Washington."
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The prisoners were set free as part of what Israel described as a good-will measure and the PA termed "inadequate." The prisoners were handed over to the PA at four West Bank checkpoints and one in the Gaza Strip, where families gave them a somewhat muted welcome home.
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"We hope this is a trust-building move that will help promote the (peace) process," said Arnon Perlman, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
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But senior PA minister Yasser Abed Rabbo dismissed the move. "It is worthless and meaningless," Abed Rabbo said. "It is a theatrical step to appease Washington."
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Palestinian parliamentary deputy Kadura Fares echoed these sentiments, saying in an interview on Channel One TV that "If Israel intended the release of Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill measure, the result was just the opposite."
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"Despite the joy that every Palestinian feels over freedom for some of the Palestinians in Israeli prisons, the Palestinian Authority ... insists on the release of all Palestinian prisoners" along a fixed timetable, said Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr in a statement.
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Responding to the Palestinians, Perlman said, "It is interesting that when Israel unilaterally releases prisoners ... they see fit to complain."
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Militant leaders derided the prisoner release as a ruse. Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi said Israel had refused to free long-serving prisoners and this "will affect the (truce) very hard."
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Another 99 prisoners, mostly criminals and Palestinians who were caught without permits inside Israel, will be released from Prisons Service facilities over the coming days.
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The 334 prisoners were taken by bus to the checkpoints nearest their home addresses. Once they were let off the buses, their handcuffs were removed.
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The original number of releases was set to be 339, but five prisoners had their releases revoked following a request to the Justice Ministry by an organization representing victims of terror attacks.
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The decision to hold off on the release of the five was made in consultations between representatives of the Justice Ministry and the bureau of Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein. The request also included the claim that one of the five, Rami Barghouti, tortured Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel.
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Before leaving prison facilities, the 334 were examined by doctors and videotaped as they signed a document vowing that they will not undertake illegal activities against Israel in the future.
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But Hamad al-Smairi, a member of Islamic Jihad and one of several dozen militants freed, said he would feel no compulsion to abide by that promise. "I am a soldier of the Islamic Jihad and I will do whatever and be whatever the Islamic Jihad wishes," he said after arriving in the Gaza Strip.
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While the PA is not planning to turn the prisoner releases into a major celebration to drive home its dissatisfaction with the number of freed prisoners, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are planning processions and rallies to celebrate their activists´ releases, even though none of the prisoners being freed are considered very high-ranking.
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According to Palestinian sources, Hamas and Islamic Jihad want to demonstrate that it was their unilateral declaration of the hudna that won the prisoner releases, and not PA government actions.
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While attention is being paid to the prisoners being released from army prison, an examination of the records since the cease-fire was declared on June 29 shows that the army has arrested nearly as many Palestinians since then - 320 - as the number it freed Wednesday.
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The IDF official figures show the IDF arrested a mere 146 Palestinians since the hudna was announced by Hamas and Islamic Jihad as their number does not include those who were arrested, held and then released.
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Relatives greet freed prisoners
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Palestinian women ululated and wept for joy as they greeted husbands and sons, and prisoners flashed V-for-victory signs and kissed the ground near the West Bank checkpoint Beitunia as they stepped onto Palestinian buses.
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"I am free. I am in the West Bank on my way home," said Murad Khalil, 25, after his release near Nablus following more than eight months in administrative detention without charge or trial.
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Like many Palestinians, he was unhappy that Israel had not freed more prisoners and that many of those who were freed had been due for release soon anyway.
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"I am happy and I am free but my happiness will not count unless Israel releases the women and other prisoners," he said.
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Most of the prisoners were brought out of prison in buses but Israel Defense Forces soldiers used taxis to send the prisoners the few hundred meters over the Erez crossing into Gaza.
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A large crowd of relatives shoved back Palestinian police at their side of the crossing, chanting "No peace while prisoners are in jail." They carried the prisoners on their shoulders.
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Some of the freed prisoners were repentant.
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"I will go back to university to study. I did enough as a militant. I did my duty and now I have to look after myself and study law," said 27-year-old Islamic Jihad member Amar Jaradat, at a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Jenin, who was released after more than 4 years in jail for what Israel´s prisoners roster said were "services" in an unauthorized organization.
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Others were defiant, even though they had signed an undertaking not to take part in any anti-Israel activities.
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"I am a soldier of the Islamic Jihad and I will do whatever and be whatever the Islamic Jihad wishes," said Hamad al-Smairi, released in Gaza after serving 13 years of a 15-year sentence.
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The IDF allowed complete media coverage of the prisoner release, with Israel hoping that the event would be widely covered by the media, to show it is taking confidence-building measures. The Palestinians were expected, however, to use the release to highlight the plight of thousands more still in Israeli custody. (© Copyright 2003 Haaretz. 08/06/03)
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