Israeli cabinet agrees to free some 200 Palestinian prisoners

Other News Materials 17 August 2008 13:56 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - Israel's cabinet voted Sunday to approve the release of some 200 Palestinians from its jails, in a move a government spokesman described as "a confidence-building measure to strengthen the peace process and dialogue."

The release, Mark Regev said, was intended "to demonstrate that the path of moderation, negotiation and reconciliation would bring tangible results."

He said the release would include prisoners with "blood on their hands" - Israeli terminology for prisoners who carried out attacks in which people were killed.

When they met on August 6, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to free more prisoners, as a "goodwill gesture and a confidence-building measure."

The fate of the approximately 8,500 Palestinians in Israeli jails is a highly emotional one for the Palestinians.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded their release, as a way of building his standing in the eyes of his electorate, and showing that he can get prisoners freed through negotiations, rather than through kidnapping Israelis to use as bargaining chips, the tactic favoured by such militants groups as Hamas and the Iranian- backed Lebanese Hezbollah.

Negotiations for the release of an Israeli soldier, kidnapped by Gaza-based militias on June 25, 2006, and still held in the Gaza Strip, have so far come to naught, with Israel refusing to release the 1,000 prisoners demands.

But on July 16, after weeks of negotiations, Israel freed five Lebanese prisoners, including Samir Kuntar, jailed in 1979 for leading an attack in which four Israelis were killed, in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers Hezbollah snatched in a cross- border raid on July 12, 2006.