( AFP ) - Israel will release up to 400 Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture to strengthen Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas ahead of an expected peace conference, Haaretz reported on Monday.
Abbas has requested the release of up to 2,000 of the more than 11,000 Palestinians currently being held in Israeli jails before the international conference expected to be held in Annapolis later this year, the newspaper said.
Israel has said it will not free any prisoners with "blood on their hands" -- those who have been implicated in deadly attacks on Israelis -- or any prisoners from the Islamist Hamas movement which controls the Gaza Strip.
Israel's security establishment has also refused to lift any of the more than 500 roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank, fearing that doing so could pave the way for an attack aimed at derailing the talks, Haaretz said.
Palestinians have repeatedly asked Israel to release prisoners and lift roadblocks as a way of strengthening Abbas as he and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert work to restart the peace process after a seven-year lull.
On Sunday a meeting between Israel's foreign minister Tzipi Livni and chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qorei was scrapped after Qorei was stopped at a roadblock outside Jerusalem, an incident Israel said it regretted.
Meanwhile Olmert told a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday that he would insist on Palestinians recognising Israel as a "Jewish state" as a precondition for any peace agreement.
"I do not intend to compromise in any way over the issue of the Jewish State," Olmert said, according to Haaretz. "This will be a condition for our recognition of the Palestinian state."
The recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would strengthen Israeli demands that the estimated 4.4 million Palestinian refugees not be allowed to return to Israel under the "right of return" demanded by Palestinians.
The fate of the refugees -- along with borders and the status of Jerusalem -- is one of the most hotly contested issues in the Middle East conflict.