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Palestinian Prisoner Release Given Green Light

By Jim Teeple
19 November 2007

Israel's prime minister has received cabinet approval to release 441 Palestinian prisoners ahead of next week's Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland. Mr. Olmert told his cabinet he plans to remove unauthorized settlements in the West Bank. As VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem, Palestinians have criticized the prisoner release as inadequate.

Momentum is gathering ahead of next week's Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland. Ehud Olmert says his prisoner release is a key confidence building measure, ahead of the conference.

The Israeli prime minister says he expects intensive negotiations to start after the Annapolis conference. He says those talks will deal with core issues such as borders, the future of Jerusalem and the status of Palestinian refugees.

Mr. Olmert also told his cabinet he plans to reaffirm his pledge not to build new settlements in the West Bank and to dismantle illegal outposts that have been built in recent years by Israeli settlers. However, he made no mention of an American request to freeze all construction in existing settlements. His comments came ahead of a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Monday.

Palestinian officials involved in the prisoner release talks with Israel say the Israeli pledge to release 441 Palestinians is inadequate. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had called on Israel to release 2,000 of the more than 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli detention.

Meanwhile, Palestinian negotiators, who have flown to Washington for talks with U.S. officials ahead of the Annapolis conference, say Israel should agree to halt all settlement activity, including any construction now underway in existing West Bank settlements. About 450,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, land Israel captured 40 years ago in the Six-Day War

Nabil Abudurneih, a spokesman for moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, says the Palestinian position is clear.

Abudurneih says one of the reasons the Palestinians are attending the Annapolis conference is to get Israel to agree to freeze all settlement activity in the West Bank.

Both sides say they will follow the roadmap peace plan, which calls for Israel to stop settlement activity in the West Bank and for Palestinians to stop attacks against Israelis, as a first step towards further talks on core issues that are supposed to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian State.

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