Israel could release more Palestinians

Israel Materials 24 December 2007 20:15 (UTC +04:00)

Israel's prime minister was trying to line up cabinet support Monday for releasing larger numbers of Palestinian prisoners in an effort to win the freedom of an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militants, officials said.

Haim Ramon, a key all of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, was to convene senior ministers Monday afternoon to debate Olmert's proposal to ease the release criteria to include Palestinians involved in failed attacks on Israelis, government officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the debate.

Israel's refusal to free those Palestinians has held up a deal to swap 450 prisoners for Gilad Shalit, the soldier seized by Hamas-linked militants from Gaza in a cross-border raid last year, Israeli defense officials said. They also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the talks, which have been mediated by Egypt.

Israel is holding about 9,000 Palestinians and their release is a central demand of Palestinian authorities.

Israel and the Hamas rulers of Gaza had at one point agreed on a list of about 450 prisoners that includes supporters of both Hamas and the rival Fatah movement of the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said Ephraim Sneh, a lawmaker on parliament's influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

But Israel's criteria for releasing prisoners are currently so stringent that few of the prisoners in Israeli jails could meet them, Sneh said.

Although Olmert could make the change himself, such a decision made alone could be highly unpopular among the Israeli public, so Olmert wants senior ministers to back him, the newspaper said.

ptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Monday that Israel's construction plans for a contested east Jerusalem neighborhood and West Bank endanger the Mideast peace process // news.yahoo.com