Israel to Free 900 Palestinian Prisoners (AP) By RAVI NESSMAN JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/03/05 6:32 PM)
AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS
AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS Articles-Index-Top
JERUSALEM - Senior Israeli Cabinet ministers on Thursday approved the
release of 900 Palestinian prisoners and the handover of the West
Bank town of Jericho to Palestinian control in coming days - gestures
meant to build goodwill ahead of next week´s Mideast summit.
The Palestinians had hoped for broader concessions that could bolster
Palestinian support for newly elected leader Mahmoud Abbas´ peace
efforts. Regardless, both sides said they remained hopeful the summit
in Egypt next week would produce a cease-fire declaration to formally
end more than four years of fighting.
In new violence Thursday, two militant attacks - one in Gaza and one
in the West Bank - wounded six Israeli soldiers and left one of the
Palestinian attackers dead.
A joint declaration to end the violence is one of the first
requirements in the internationally backed "road map" peace plan,
which was launched with great hopes at a summit in Jordan in 2003 but
quickly stalled amid continued attacks. The "road map," a phased
peace plan, calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state this
Sharon told his security Cabinet it is still premature to talk about
restarting road map negotiations.
"We are not talking about peace now, and not about the road map, but
rather about phases that come before the implementation of the road
map," Sharon said, according to participants in Thursday´s meeting.
Israeli officials say Sharon does not want to begin new peace talks
now, fearing they will interfere with his plan to withdraw from the
Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements this summer.
A meeting Thursday night between Sharon aide Dov Weisglass and
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat exposed deep differences in
expectations for the summit, according to Israeli officials.
Palestinians said they wanted it to be the beginning of a new
political process to end the conflict; Israel wants the summit only
to deal with security issues, the officials said.
Palestinians also wanted more extensive goodwill gestures from
Israel, including a wider prisoner release and Israeli withdrawal
from more towns, Palestinian officials said.
Israeli government spokesman David Baker said the Israeli concessions
were made "despite scores of terror-related incidents in Gaza, and
the Palestinian Authority has not made one meaningful arrest."
Participants at the security Cabinet meeting said 500 prisoners would
be released shortly after Tuesday´s summit. The remaining 400
prisoners would be freed within three months.
Abbas has made the release of the 7,000 Palestinian prisoners held by
Israel a top priority. Upon news of the planned release, he voiced
hope that senior prisoners would be among those freed. The
Palestinians have criticized past Israeli releases, saying they were
insufficient and often included Palestinians whose terms were nearly
"We don´t know the real figures and what kind of prisoners they are
going to release. But what we are interested in is that the first
round be a big one and include a lot of prisoners, particularly those
who have served long prison terms," Abbas said in the West Bank town
Haim Ramon, a member of Israel´s security Cabinet, said those to be
released have sentences ranging from under a year to three or four
years, and none were involved in attacks on Israelis. Israeli hawks
criticized the release, but Ramon said it was necessary to build
Palestinian support for Abbas and prevent a new "cycle of blood."
The decision to withdraw only from Jericho also fell short of
expectations that Israel would approve a pullout from five West Bank
towns. Israel decided earlier this week to slow the planned troop
pullout after a brief flare-up of violence.
The Jericho pullout was considered largely window-dressing. Israeli
troops have only entered the quiet town a few times to make arrests.
Under the new arrangements, troops would need Palestinian approval
before entering the town, and Palestinian police would be allowed to
carry weapons, Israeli security sources said. Roadblocks around
Jericho are expected to remain in place, they added.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the security Cabinet that
Bethlehem, Qalqiliya and Tulkarem would be handed over next, followed
by Ramallah, the Palestinians´ center of government, participants
The military also planned to remove some roadblocks that make travel
tortuous for many Palestinians in the West Bank and to reopen the
Karni crossing between Gaza and Israel, which was closed last month
after militants killed six Israelis, participants said.
Mofaz emphasized that all the measures are reversible, apparently
addressing concerns by hawkish ministers.
The Israeli ministers also approved an earlier decision by the army
chief to halt the targeted killings of wanted Palestinian militants
and agreed to form a joint Israeli-Palestinian committee to decide
what to do about them.
Earlier in the day, both sides sounded optimistic about truce
"I hope that a cease-fire will be declared, a halt to all violent
acts," Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres told Army Radio. (Copyright
2005 Associated Press. 02/03/05)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY