Israeli judge orders release of detained Hamas leaders

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The Independent Online

An Israeli military judge has ordered the release of 21 Hamas ministers and parliamentarians detained in the wake of the seizure of an Israeli soldier by Gaza militants in June.

While Israeli officials insisted there was no link with their efforts to free the abducted soldier, Gilad Shalit, a senior aide to the Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, said it represented "significant progress" towards his release.

More than 220 Palestinians, including many civilians, have been killed in the Israeli military operations in Gaza which began after Cpl Shalit's seizure. An Israeli soldier was killed yesterday in central Gaza when militants ambushed troops conducting a raid.

In an unconnected incident, Israeli troops shot dead a 13-year-old Palestinian boy during a protest against an arrest raid they were mounting in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

The releases of the leading Hamas officials, on bail of £3,125 each, were delayed until tomorrow pending an appeal by military prosecutors. The Hamas leaders are among 60 arrested after Cpl Shalit's seizure.

The detainees earmarked for release include the Speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Aziz Dweik, and the senior Hamas leader in Jerusalem, the MP Mohammed Abu Tir.

* The Hizbollah chief, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said Tony Blair participated in the killing of Lebanese by not doing enough to stop Israel's war in Lebanon and criticised the government for welcoming him.