Israel frees 57 jailed Palestinians to boost Abbas

Turkey Materials 2 October 2007 23:57

( Todayszaman ) Israel sent 57 jailed Palestinians home to the West Bank on Monday to try to bolster Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas , but the release of 29 other prisoners who live in the Hamas -run Gaza Strip hit a snag.

In a surprise move, Israeli President Shimon Peres, a strong advocate of peacemaking with the Palestinians, did not sign all of the pardons for the Gaza residents and the group remained behind bars, Israeli officials said. A spokeswoman for Peres declined to comment. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had promised to include Gaza residents in the release as part of his confidence-building moves with Abbas ahead of a US-proposed Middle East conference on Palestinian statehood, expected to convene in mid-November.

A spokesman for the Israel Prisons Service blamed the delay on " technical problems" that did not originate with the agency. After a delay of several hours, 57 prisoners who make their home in the occupied West Bank were taken to the Palestinian government compound in the city of Ramallah , where they received an emotional welcome from relatives and supporters. An additional inmate due for release to the West Bank was kept at a holding center for additional vetting, the Prisons Service said.

All 87 West Bank and Gaza residents on the release roster were members of Abbas's Fatah or smaller secular factions who had been jailed for attacks that did not kill Israelis. Olmert said last week they would have to forswear violence in writing. Peres's signature was not required for the release of West Bank-based prisoners because the area is under military occupation and the men were freed in accordance with an order signed by an Israeli general.

"We are happy to see our sons freed, but we hope that prisoners with longer sentences will be freed as well," said Mahmoud Ali, one of the Palestinians waiting for the men in the West Bank.

The release of prisoners is highly emotive for Palestinians, who see their nearly 11,000 brethren held in Israeli jails as fighters against foreign occupation.