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July 23, 2007 09:38

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title: 'This is like giving an aging man a Viagra' Intro: Palestinians joyful after release of 250 prisoners but say it's not enough. By Khaled Abu Toameh Ramallah - "This is a good step in the right direction, but it's not enough." This is how many Palestinians reacted to Friday's release of 255 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons. While the families of the prisoners welcomed the release, saying it would boost the standing of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, others were more skeptical. "We thank President Mahmoud Abbas for this great day," said Sireen Salem as she greeted her brother, Ashraf with hugs and kisses in the Mukata "presidential" compound. "Of course this will help the president and Fatah. We hope that this step will lead to real peace with Israel." Ashraf, a Fatah activist, said he was surprised by the decision to release him although he had only served half of his seven year term. "The truth is that I didn't expect to be released so soon," he said. "We hope that this gesture will be followed by many others and that we can open a new page in our relations with Israel." Another prisoner, Murad Musa, was released after spending six years of his nine-year sentence. He too said he was surprised when he was told that his name was on the list. "We were convinced that Israel was going to release prisoners who had almost completed their entire term in prison," he said. "Usually Israel releases prisoners only weeks or months before they complete their terms." Like the majority of his colleagues, Musa expressed mixed reactions about the release. "On the one hand, we are very happy to be free," he said. "But on the other hand we think about the thousands of prisoners who are still in jail. Our joy will not be full until all the prisoners are released." Approximately 300 Palestinians and dozens of journalists and photographers converged on the Mukata to cover the event, which was held under tight security measures. Shortly after the three buses carrying the prisoners entered the compound, Abbas, wearing a cap in the colors of a white and black keffiyeh, stepped out of his office to greet them and to pledge that he will continue to work to release the remaining inmates. Flanked by Prime Minister Salaam Fayad and Abdel Rahim Malouh, the deputy secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - the most senior prisoner on the list - Abbas declared: "We will continue to make every effort to ensure that all the prisoners are reunited with their families. The issue of the prisoners will remain at the top of our agenda." But even as the celebration was underway, some Palestinians said they were not sure that the move would bolster Abbas. "This is like giving an aging man a Viagra," commented Abu Mustapha, a 65-year-old merchant. "The Viagra will work for an hour or two, but then its effect will go away." A Palestinian journalist noted that the number of Palestinians who came to greet the prisoners was much smaller than expected. "I didn't see thousands of people take to the streets to welcome the freed prisoners," he said. "I'm not sure that this move helps Abbas and Fatah. In fact, many people are upset because they see the move as an attempt to improve Israel's image at the expense of the Palestinians." Maha Jaradat, the wife of a prisoner who was not included in Friday's deal, said: "Israel is making fun of us. Only in the past few weeks the Israelis arrested more than 300 Palestinians. Now they are trying to look good by releasing about 250 prisoners, most of whom are affiliated with Fatah. The families of prisoners belonging to other groups are unhappy because their sons have been ignored. This makes Fatah look like collaborators with Israel."


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