Israeli, Palestinian leaders meeting
( AP ) - Israeli and Palestinian leaders were meeting in Jerusalem to try to map out a joint program for next month's Mideast peace conference, a day after Israel completed the release of 86 prisoners as a goodwill gesture.
At their meeting Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were expected to take the first concrete steps toward a framework agreement for the international community at the November summit. The two have been sparring in their previous meetings, but aides said actual work was about to begin.
In apparent internal Palestinian violence on Tuesday, four people were killed when a car exploded near the Hamas marine police headquarters in Gaza City, Hamas and hospital officials said.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades affiliated with Fatah said in a statement that three of the dead were members of the militia who were killed on their way to a "holy mission," meaning an attack apparently against Hamas, when Hamas militants fired an RPG at their car.
A Web site affiliated with Hamas said the three Fatah militants were on their way to bomb a Hamas installation but the explosives went off prematurely. The fourth man killed was a bystander, the statement said.
Officially, the Hamas rulers of Gaza did not give any details about the incident after backing down from an earlier accusation that Israel was involved. Early Wednesday, at least 15 relatives of the three men were arrested by Hamas security forces in their neighborhood east of Gaza City, residents said.
Tensions between Hamas and Fatah have been high since the Islamic group seized control of the Gaza Strip in intense fighting in June. Abbas has since thrown Hamas out of the government and formed a Western-backed Cabinet that has effective control only over the West Bank.
In further violence in Gaza, four Hamas fighters were injured early Wednesday near the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel in an explosion the militant group blamed on an Israeli air strike. But Israel's army denied any involvement in the blast. One of the militants later died of his wounds, doctors said.
In a gesture meant to bolster the moderate Abbas in his struggle with the Islamic Hamas, Israel sent 29 Palestinians back to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, following the release of 57 prisoners in the West Bank a day earlier.
Most of the prisoners who were freed are members of Abbas' Fatah movement. None belonged to Hamas.
At the Erez border crossing between Israel and northern Gaza, dozens of ecstatic Palestinians awaited the arrival of their newly released relatives. Many waved yellow Fatah flags and sang Fatah songs.
Four girls with Palestinian flags draped around their shoulders jumped excitedly among dozens of relatives who greeted the prisoners at Erez. Elated families hoisted the prisoners on their shoulders, waved Palestinian flags and shouted "God is Great."
Abdel Hadi Hassanain, who was serving time for membership in Fatah's armed wing, smiled widely as a crowd gathered around him, slapping him on the back and hugging him, as his father tried to push through the throng. Hassanain grabbed his father, kissing him on both cheeks and then twice on the forehead as the elder man broke down with emotion.
"We're very happy to meet our parents, but the happiness will not be complete until all others have been released," Hassanain said.
Israel holds about 11,000 Palestinian prisoners. Because so many families have relatives in Israeli jails, securing their release is a high priority in Palestinian society. Israel said none of the prisoners released this week were convicted in deadly attacks on Israelis.
Israel approved this week's prisoner release, which coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, to help build trust ahead of the peace conference, expected to take place in November in the United States.
The Israeli and Palestinian leaders have pledged to work on a document setting out their joint vision for a final peace deal, which they hope to present at the conference.
However, the two sides are far apart on how specific the joint document should be, underscoring the conflicting expectations and the considerable potential for failure. The Palestinians want to take a detailed framework agreement to the conference, while Israel wants a shorter and vaguer statement.