The Prisons Service released 200 Palestinian security prisoners, including senior Hamas activist Sheikh Hassan Yousef, and 500 Israeli convicts on Thursday, as part of a routine procedure for inmates who are close to completing their sentences.

Yousef was jailed for six years, and is the father of Mosab Hassan Yousef, who acted as a Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) undercover agent, and authored the book Son of Hamas.

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Mosab Hassan Yusef converted to Christianity after admitting that he had worked as an informer for the Shin Bet. His father subsequently excommunicated him.

Upon Sheikh Hassan Yousef’s return to his Ramallah home, he called for Palestinian unity, saying he would join efforts to achieve reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

He also disclosed that he had participated in negotiations over a prisoner-exchange deal between Hamas and Israel, adding that the negotiations stopped about a month ago because of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s refusal to accept the captors’ demands.

“Israel is waging a war not only against Hamas, but also against the entire Palestinian people,” Yusef said. “Israel specifically targets the leaders of Hamas.”

The Hamas leader said that his movement would pursue the “path of liberation” and would remain loyal to the cause of the Palestinians.

He also denounced the continued imprisonment of 19 Palestinian legislators, 17 of them members of Hamas’s Change and Reform parliamentary list.

Yusef said that about 40 Hamas prisoners were being held in solitary confinement, in line with Israel’s decision to toughen the conditions of inmates as a means of exerting pressure on Hamas to release IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.

The Hamas leader said that his movement does not support Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas’s plan to ask the UN in September to recognize a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines.

He said that such a step would be ineffective and added to previous UN resolutions pertaining to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Sources in the Prisons Service dismissed reports that Yousef was released as a gesture for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, stressing that the move was part of a standard practice of creating space for incoming inmates.

On Tuesday, the Knesset’s Interior Affairs and Environment Committee ruled that the Prisons Service would receive funds to house 17,700 prisoners.

The committee sets the number of prisoners that can be held in prisons twice a year.

Upon sentencing, every new inmate – whether convicted of security or criminal offenses – is assigned an administrative release date, which falls a little before their official release date, in case the Prisons Service needs to create additional space to meet the committee’s set number, as was the case this week.

In response to the release of Palestinian security prisoners, including Hamas members, Noam Schalit said that these were just a small fraction of the thousands who had been freed since Hamas kidnapped his son Gilad more than five years ago.

“The prime minister and his bureau have scared the public and told them that the release of such prisoners in exchange for a soldier would lead to a new wave of terror attacks and the death of Israelis,” Schalit said.

He added that he and his supporters have repeatedly stated that many freed prisoners are already at large and that terror activity occurs irrespective of the reasons that the prisoners have been released.

Hamas has asked for the release of 1,000 prisoners in exchange for Gilad, including those responsible for terror attacks against Israelis.

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