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Israel Releases 29 Palestinian Prisoners to Gaza

02 October 2007

Twenty nine Palestinian prisoners have returned to the Gaza Strip after being released by Israel in a goodwill gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

As the men crossed the Erez border crossing Tuesday between Israel and Gaza, a large crowd surged forward to greet them.

Witnesses say Israeli troops opened fire to keep the crowd back, wounding two people including a photographer for the Reuters news agency. The Israeli army says troops first shot in the air at the approaching Palestinians, then fired at their legs when they would not stop.

Most of the released prisoners were members of Fatah, which lost control of the Gaza Strip in June to its factional rival, Hamas.

On Monday, Israel freed 57 other Palestinian prisoners to the West Bank.

The prisoner releases come ahead of a Wednesday meeting in Jerusalem between Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on an upcoming Middle East peace conference.

The two leaders are set to discuss a joint statement to be issued at the U.S.-sponsored peace conference, scheduled for November.

Mr. Abbas repeated a call Sunday for the conference to have a clear agenda that tackles the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and final borders. Mr. Olmert has said he wants a more general declaration of principles.

President Bush has said he hopes the conference will start a full resumption of peace talks leading to the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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