|VOICE OF AMERICA|
SLUG: 2-322704 Israel / Palestinians
TITLE= ISRAEL PALESTINIANS / L
BYLINE= LARRY JAMES
HEADLINE: Israel Begins Releasing 500 Palestinian Prisoners
INTRO: Israel has begun releasing 500 Palestinian prisoners, as part of a goodwill
gesture aimed at getting Middle East peace efforts back on track. VOA's Larry
James reports from Jerusalem.
TEXT: The first group began boarding buses in the pre-dawn darkness, Monday, at Israel's Etzion Prison, headed for destinations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
All those Israel decided to free were required to sign statements pledging not to
be involved in terrorism.
The Israeli government agreed to the release of the prisoners, earlier this month,
as part of a series of goodwill gestures toward new Palestinian President Mahmoud
An additional 400 prisoners are to be freed in the coming weeks. The list is to
be drawn up by a joint Israeli-Palestinian committee.
Another group of 39 Palestinians, who had been deported to the Gaza Strip and to
Europe, have been granted permission to return to the West Bank.
The prisoner release comes a day after the government gave final approval to a
plan to dismantle all Jewish settlements in Gaza. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
says the decision to pursue the disengagement was difficult.
/// SHARON ACTUALITY ///
"In all my years of service, I have made hundreds, if not thousands of decisions --
many in regard to life and death -- but the decision about the disengagement plan
is the most difficult of all."
/// END ACTUALITY ///
The prime minister says he is convinced the decision that was taken was the
right one in ensuring the future of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state.
Following the vote, the prime minister immediately signed evacuation orders for
all Jewish settlements in Gaza and four small ones in the northern part of the
West Bank. The orders give settlers five months to move and also authorizes
stiff penalties for any who refuse to leave by the July 20th deadline.
Palestinian President Abbas said, following the vote, that the Palestinian
Authority would ensure that the withdrawal take place without any violence from
He says Palestinians would throw flowers on the departing Israelis -- not stones.
The cabinet also approved a revised route for the separation barrier being built
in the West Bank that is said to be less inclusive of land claimed by the
Palestinians than a previous route. The new route incorporates six percent of
West Bank land, compared to the 15 percent that would have been claimed under the
original plan. Even so, Palestinians were angered by the move, which they say has
usurped Palestinian land and bypassed any negotiations over borders. (signed)
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