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Israel to Release 90 Palestinian Prisoners This Week

23 September 2007

Israel will release more Palestinian prisoners this week in a bid to advance the peace process. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the move has brought criticism from Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Israel's Cabinet approved the release of 90 Palestinian prisoners from the Fatah faction by a vote of 16 to six. Officials say it is a goodwill gesture to U.S.-backed Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Israel wants to strengthen the moderate Abbas government in the West Bank, three months after the Islamic militant group Hamas routed Fatah forces and seized control of the Gaza Strip.

The prisoner issue is extremely charged on both sides. Shaul Mofaz is one of the six Israeli Cabinet ministers who voted against the prisoner release.

Mofaz told Israel Radio that the prisoner release is an act of weakness. He said the Palestinian Authority is in chaos and anarchy, and there is no reason for Israel to release terrorists without getting anything in return.

But if the release of 90 prisoners is too much for many Israelis, it is not enough for the Palestinians. A Hamas official in Gaza, Ahmed Yousef, demanded the release of all 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

"Actually, nobody [is] paying attention to our Palestinians suffering in Israeli prisons, some of them spent more than 20 years in jail," said Yousef.

Israel hopes the prisoner release will improve the atmosphere in negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Abbas. They are trying to hammer out a document on Palestinian statehood that would be presented at an international peace conference in the United States, possibly in November.

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