prisoner release 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Israel will delay the release of 29 Gaza prisoners until Tuesday morning, the Prime Minister's Office said in a brief statement Monday evening.
Meanwhile, a convoy with 57 Palestinian prisoners arrived at the Beitunya checkpoint, between Givat Ze'ev and Ramallah, on Monday afternoon after being released from Ketziot Prison. Some 200 relatives of the prisoners waited at the checkpoint to greet them.
In total, 86 security prisoners are expected to be freed Monday. Another prisoner who was due to be released is set to stay in prison after he was discovered to be a Hamas member.
The release of the remaining 29 prisoners was delayed as President Shimon Peres had not completed the signing of their special presidential pardons.
IPS officials said that the delay was also caused by the need to examine Palestinian requests regarding the terms of the prisoners' release.
Most of the prisoners are Fatah members from the West Bank, while around one-third are residents of the Gaza Strip.
The prisoner release comes ahead of formal talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams aimed at drawing up a joint document for next month's US-hosted Middle East peace meeting.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will host Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his succa in Jerusalem on Wednesday. The meeting was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but was pushed off a day for what officials in the Prime Minister's Office described as technical reasons.
Olmert expressed hope on Sunday that the prisoner release would help achieve progress in the peace talks and lead to a further reduction in the number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. He was addressing senior police and Israel Prisons Service officers in his succa at the prime minister's residence.
"I am making great efforts so that the number of your inmates will be reduced, particularly the number of security prisoners - and I am not just talking about the 90 Palestinian prisoners set to be released tomorrow," he said. "I hope that these efforts will lead us to a path [of peace] with the Palestinians and to a situation where one day our prisons will be less crowded with security prisoners who have tried to harm Israelis."
The cabinet agreed last month to free more Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture to Abbas ahead of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The detainees - 58 from the West Bank and 29 from Gaza - are mostly Fatah activists, and none of them are classified as "having blood on their hands."
The Almagor terror victims' organization petitioned the High Court late Sunday against the prisoner release, but the court, presided by Justice Miryam Naor, rejected the petition.
Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra expressed support on Sunday for the prisoner release as a move that could strengthen Abbas and moderate Palestinian elements. In an interview with Israel Radio, Ezra said the important point was not whether the detainees had blood on their hands, but how likely they were to resume terror activity once out of jail.
However, Israeli officials have made it clear that the Palestinians cannot expect further goodwill gestures ahead of the November peace conference, which is slated to take place in Annapolis, Maryland.
Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog on Sunday described the Olmert-Abbas meeting as a sign of hope in a region where the extremists were trying to destroy hope. At the same time, he cautioned against raising expectations over the November conference, saying the main aim of the gathering should be to create a framework for final-status talks.
Negotiating teams from both sides will use the Olmert-Abbas meeting to launch formal talks aimed at reaching an agreement on a joint statement, which would be presented at the conclusion of the November conference.
The Israeli negotiating team will consist of the prime minister's political advisor, Shalom Turgeman; Olmert's bureau chief, Yoram Turbowicz; Foreign Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovitch and the Defense Ministry's Mike Herzog.
The Palestinians have been seeking a more detailed document that would cover contentious issues such as borders, refugees and the fate of Jerusalem, with a set timetable for implementation. Israel, however, wants a broader agreement of principles, with the key issues to be tackled in bilateral talks after the Annapolis conference.