Israel to free 250 in bid to bolster Abbas

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The Independent Online

Israel is to free 250 Palestinian prisoners in a bid to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his power struggle with Hamas Islamists who control the Gaza Strip.

The prisoners, a fraction of the 11,000 Palestinians held by Israel, will be released in the occupied West Bank, where Mr Abbas's government holds sway, before next week's Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Israel's outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had promised to free the prisoners during a meeting this month with Mr Abbas, who launched peace talks with Israel a year ago after Gaza's violent takeover by Hamas.

The freed prisoners will be from Mr Abbas's secular Fatah faction and other non-Islamist groups. A senior Palestinian negotiator said that Israel has yet to tell the Palestinians whether it would consider freeing high-profile Fatah inmates such as uprising leader Marwan Barghouthi, who is seen as a possible successor to Mr Abbas as president.