|VOICE OF AMERICA|
SLUG: 2-324928 Israel/Palestinians (L-O)
HEADLINE: Israel Approves Release of 400 Palestinian Prisoners
INTRO: Israel has approved the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, Palestinians say it's not enough.
TEXT: Israel's Cabinet approved the release of 400 Palestinian prisoners, as part of a cease-fire agreement reached nearly four months ago. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said it's a goodwill gesture to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
/// SHARON ACT IN HEBREW, ESTABLISH AND FADE ///
"We must strengthen the moderate elements of the Palestinian Authority," Mr. Sharon told Cabinet ministers.
Israel agreed to release 900 Palestinian prisoners under a truce agreement reached in Egypt in February. It freed 500 prisoners right away, but the release of the remaining 400 was postponed after Israel accused Mr. Abbas of failing to keep his part of the deal to crackdown on militants.
But with the violent Islamic militant group Hamas poised to make a strong showing in Palestinian parliamentary elections in July, Israel wants to strengthen Mr. Abbas. The Cabinet vote was 18 to three. Among the dissenters was former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
/// NETANYAHU ACT IN HEBREW, ESTABLISH AND FADE ///
"The Palestinians made a commitment to take action against terrorist groups, but they have failed," Mr. Netanyahu said. "I don't see any reason to reward them."
Palestinian officials said the release of 400 prisoners is not enough. Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said there are more than seven thousand Palestinians in Israeli jails.
/// QUREIA ACT ///
"We have to concentrate all our efforts to see all our prisoners to be free and to be released."
/// END ACT ///
Mahmoud Abbas has told Israel that he needs the release of thousands of prisoners to show his people the benefits of peace and strengthen his grip on power.
But prisoner releases are not popular in Israel, where most people have family or friends who were killed or wounded in terrorist attacks. So Israel says prisoners with Jewish blood on their hands will not go free. (SIGNED)
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