Fatah men go on prison fast

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The Independent Online
PALESTINIAN PRISONERS in Israeli jails have started a hunger strike in protest against Israel's failure to free them under the new peace deal.

"Fatah prisoners in Megiddo prison have today started an open-ended hunger strike. It will spread to other jails," one detainee, a member of the mainstream Palestinian Fatah organisation, has said. It is not known how many of the 3,000 Palestinian prisoners are taking part. The release of prisoners by Israel is one of the most important elements in the peace deal for Palestinians.

So far, Palestinian car thieves may be the clearest beneficiaries of the American-brokered peace agreement reached at Wye, Maryland, last month under which 750 Israeli- held Palestinians were to be freed.

Palestinian leaders were enraged to find that 150 of the first batch of 250 prisoners freed at the start this week were common criminals, many jailed for stealing cars in Israel for sale in Palestinian-controlled areas.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, said yesterday that he was not releasing Palestinian security prisoners. "Do not expect us to release those who have killed our children," he said. Hisham Abdel Rizaq, the Palestinian official in charge of negotiating prisoners' releases, said he was particularly keen to win the freedom of 1,000 Palestinians who have been in prison since before the Oslo accords of 1993.

Mr Netanyahu arrives in Britain tomorrow for a brief visit to meet Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, and Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary. He also expected to meet leaders of the Jewish community in the UK.

In Gaza, the Palestinians are to open their airport today, when an Egyptian plane is expected to land. More important for the million people living in Gaza would be the opening of "safe passage" to the West Bank, details of which are still being negotiated.

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