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Prisoner Release: PA snubs Israel, prisoners (JERUSALEM POST) By MATTHEW GUTMAN, ARIEH O´SULLIVAN AND JOEL LEYDEN 08/06/03) Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/A/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1060144187688
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Israel released 334 Palestinian prisoners Wednesday into the arms of ululating mothers, clapping clan members chanting, "God is great," and the conspicuously turned-backs of the Palestinian Authority.
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Israel billed the release hailed by the Palestinians as critical for the success of the Road Map as a goodwill measure to the Palestinians and as an attempt to relieve some of the pressure from and boost popular support for Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas.
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Amid much media fanfare, but no official greetings of the PA in an effort to snub the Israeli government, the prisoners were driven in Israeli buses to four checkpoints in the West Bank and to the Erez Checkpoint in Gaza.
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Most of the prisoners, 182, were convicted for security crimes while another 157 were held as administrative detainees. Only 18 prisoners were released to Gaza, the rest were scattered about the West Bank and chauffeured into cities like Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarm as heroes, often being lifted right off the bus and onto comrades or family members´ shoulders.
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Five of the prisoners were remanded in prison by the Justice Ministry following a intense lobbying effort by the Victims for Arab Terror organization to remove the most violent from the release list.
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Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein upheld the decision following consultations with the Justice Ministry, partially due to one of the prisoners, Rami Barghouti´s involvement with the torturing of suspected collaborators with Israel.
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Yet, it was the Palestinian Authorities conspicuous snub of the prisoners raised the eyebrows of journalists and some Palestinians.
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Standing underneath a billboard advertising Mars bars that had replaces the face of PA Chairman Arafat Deputy Minister for Prisoner Affairs Ziad Abu Ein said that the PA is not celebrating the release of the 334 prisoners because it "is waiting for the rest to be released."
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"This is not a day for celebration," he continued adding that all the 6000 prisoners in Israeli custody deserve freedom because they "were freedom fighters fighting the ugly Israeli terrorism, occupation, and settlers and have the right to defend their country."
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Abu Ein, arrested for sheltering Tanzim boss Marwan Barghouti in his home last April and released last month, added that the PA intends to help the prisoners acclimate into civilian lives by providing them a monthly stipend and eventually jobs in the PA.
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During their incarceration all the families of the Palestinian prisoners regardless of their political affiliation, received a monthly stipend of about $300 per month, he said.
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Israel released busloads of 339 Palestinian prisoners into the hands of the Palestinian Authority today, all the while keeping the release under heavy police guard to prevent disruptions.
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Buses carrying the detainees have made their way from prisons to five checkpoints, where the men were handed over to the Palestinian Authority. A Palestinian taxi carried the first batch of men from Erez checkpoint into Gaza, where they were greeted by dozens of relatives waving flags and chanting, "Welcome" and "God is Great." Some of the men emerged from the taxi and kissed the ground before embracing their families. Hussein Abu Eid, 32, who served 13 years of a 15-year sentence for membership in Islamic Jihad, kissed and embraced his father for several minutes.
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"I miss you my father. I wish my mother was still alive to see me and bring happiness to her heart," he said.
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Minutes later, several prisoners were freed at Beitunya junction near Ramallah. Four buses, escorted by police, also arrived at Tarqumiya checkpoint in the southern West Bank. Prisoners leaned from windows and made victory signs before the buses crossed into the Palestinian area, to whistles and cheers from hundreds of waiting relatives.
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Israelis who lost loved ones in Palestinian attacks demonstrated both against and in support of the prisoner release Wednesday. The first bus of 16 left Ketziot prison, south of Beersheba, at 7 a.m. Other buses have left the Megiddo prison in the North. The release is set for 2:30 p.m. at various checkpoints. A military source said no changes have been made regarding either the schedule or the number of prisoners to be set free today.
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"The release is going smoothly," the source said. The convoys, under heavy police guard to prevent disruptions, are to deliver the prisoners to five crossing points, four in the West Bank and one in the Gaza Strip. An additional 99 prisoners will be released at a later date, senior security sources said. They include 50 who were sentenced for criminal activity and 49 who were detained for being in Israel without a permit.
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Security sources said the 339 Palestinians to be released include 182 security prisoners currently serving their terms and 157 administrative detainees. The list includes one woman. Security officials insisted none were involved in lethal attacks on Israelis.
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"This release represents a powerful and realistic gesture of Israel´s intention to follow the road map and secure a lasting peace with the Palestinians," the source said. "We have every intention to make sure that both the Palestinian people and the world public see that Israel is upholding its part of the peace process." Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas canceled a meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon planned for Wednesday to protest the list of prisoners to be released.
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Bassam Abu Sharif, an adviser to PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, called the planned release a "joke," which he said proves "Sharon is not serious about implementing the road map." Former PA cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said Israel had ignored the PA s demand that prisoners who were arrested before the signing of the Oslo Accords get priority.
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Abu Sharif said serious American mediation efforts are under way to reinstate the Abbas-Sharon meeting. He did not rule out the two would meet before Abbas leaves for Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf on Thursday.
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An aide to Abbas also said the meeting would eventually take place, but it would be delayed until Abbas returns from the Gulf. The IDF has put military prisons on high alert to thwart any attempted riots.
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Each prisoner will be obligated to sign a form promising not to be involved in any further terrorist activity against Israel. Anyone who refuses to sign it will be returned to prison, said a senior IDF officer.
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The senior officer said the army is treating the release as a military operation and has taken a number of precautions to deal with all possible scenarios. Each convoy will be escorted by police vehicles and will include ambulances. A central command center will coordinate the entire process.
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Possible scenarios include attempts by Israelis to disrupt the convoys or even harm the prisoners, or that the prisoners may cause problems.
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Security forces have been put on alert at the five distribution points to prevent any rallies or protests from getting out of control. "We have answers for all the scenarios and will know how to react as necessary," the senior IDF officer told reporters.
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The IDF has taken pains to ensure that the prisoner release will receive full media coverage. Families of the prisoners are expected to greet them at the crossings, and the IDF hopes they will be joined by representatives of the PA who will ensure their return.
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The plan is for all the convoys to arrive simultaneously at the five crossing points. Shortly before reaching the crossing points, however, the buses will halt and the handcuffs will be removed.
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The largest number of prisoners, 103, will be freed at the Turkamiya roadblock. Another 70 will be released at Tulkarm, and 70 more at Beitunya, southwest of Ramallah. Sixty-eight will be released at the Salem roadblock near Jenin, and 28 are to be set free at the Erez crossing in the GazaStrip.
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The list was not coordinated with the Palestinians, who have called it disappointing, as it contains few long-serving detainees. Others greeted the release with skepticism, saying the bulk of the prisoners were due to be released shortly anyway.
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"For me as a father, I hope that all the prisoners are released and not just Hussein," said Salman Abu Eid, whose son, Hussein Salman Abu Eid, was to be freed after serving 13 years of a 15-year sentence for belonging to Islamic Jihad. Lamia Lahoud and Associated Press contributed to this report. (© 1995-2003, The Jerusalem Post 08/06/03)
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