Israel to release 400 Palestinian prisoners as 'goodwill gesture'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Israeli ministers have agreed to release 400 Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture to the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas. A spokesman said they would be set free later this week after their names were put on the internet.

Israeli ministers have agreed to release 400 Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture to the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas. A spokesman said they would be set free later this week after their names were put on the internet.

Officials said that none of them was involved in killing Israelis. The government had considered releasing some convicted of terrorism before the 1993 Oslo peace agreement, but dropped that under pressure from the Shin Bet internal security service.

Ra'anan Gissin, media adviser to the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, insisted: "We are not in the business of a wholesale release of prisoners. Those sentenced before Oslo will have to serve their full term."

The Israelis did include some post-Oslo prisoners who had not completed two-thirds of their sentences.

Sufian Abu Zaydeh, the Palestinian prisoner affairs minister, told The Independent: "This step does not meet our minimal demands. Our main interest is the release of prisoners sentenced to long terms before Oslo. We also want them to release women, teenagers and those who are sick."

According to the Palestinians, Israel is holding 8,000 prisoners. Of these, 240 are serving pre-Oslo life sentences, 400 are teen-agers, 120 are women, and 76 are in hospital. The latest batch completes the commitment to free 900 prisoners which Mr Sharon made to Mr Abbas in February.

Mr Sharon said that the latest release was aimed at supporting "Abu Mazen [Mr Abbas] and the moderate forces"at a time when Palestinian parliamentary elections and Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza were "liable to strengthen the forces of extremist terrorism".

But General Giora Eiland, Mr Sharon's national security adviser, said that Israel would not resume peace talks until Mr Abbas began to dismantle Hamas and other Islamist militias.

Also yesterday, in the West Bank city of Hebron, a Palestinian man tried to stab Israeli soldiers at a junction, but troops opened fire and killed him, the military said. The man ignored the soldiers' order to stop and warning shots had been fired in the air, the military said. Military sources said that the attacker was carrying three suicide letters explaining his action to relatives.

n Israeli police investigating industrial espionage involving leading companies have detained 18 people, including company executives and private detectives.

The inquiry by the Tel Aviv fraud squad began several months ago and found evidence that "Trojan horses", viruses designed to spy on computer systems, had been planted in the computers of leading companies, the spokesman said.

Police were investigating work for firms including Israel's top mobile phone operator, Cellcom, and two subsidiaries of the dominant phone company, Bezeq Israel Telecom.

Comments