prisoner freed hug 224.8.
(photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli)
It took two weeks more than expected, but the cabinet on Sunday approved the release of 90 Palestinian security prisoners as a gesture to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in honor of Ramadan.
A plan to discuss the issue at a cabinet meting on September 9 was scuttled at the last minute after a Kassam rocket slammed into the courtyard of a Sderot daycare center. The issue was expected to be raised the following week, but was postponed again following the Kassam rocket attack on the Zikim army base.
On Sunday, the release - which followed by some two months a previous release of 250 security prisoners as a goodwill gesture to Abbas - passed by a vote of 16-6.
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz (Kadima,) Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich (Israel Beitenu,) and the four Shas ministers voted against the release. Israel Beitenu head Avigdor Lieberman was not present for the vote.
Olmert told the cabinet before the vote that the release would not impact on efforts to secure the release of kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad Schalit, since none of those freed were prisoners that Hamas was demanding. He said the prisoners would be released according to criteria established in the past, and that Israel traditionally released a number of prisoners for Ramadan.
The Ministerial Committee on the Release of Prisoners met following the cabinet and approved the 90 names. According to government officials, the prisoners that would be released did not have "blood on their hands" and were not affiliated with either Hamas or the Islamic Jihad.
The list was drawn up by Justice Ministry and security officials. Some 20 names were removed from the list because they did not meet the government's criteria. According to a government statement, one-third of the prisoners were from Gaza, and the rest from the West Bank.
According to the statement, the prisoners would be released during the coming week in coordination with Abbas's office. Their names will be published 48 hours before their release in order to enable court appeals regarding specific names.
Mofaz, who was opposed to the prisoner release in July, told the cabinet that Israel hadn't received anything in return for the previous prisoner release, and wouldn't receive anything this time, either.
"These are steps that send a signal of weakness and lack of determination, especially when talking about a release of prisoners from Gaza," Mofaz said. "We haven't seen anything change in the PA - the terrorism doesn't stop, the Palestinian security officials don't work, and they don't take any responsibility."
Mofaz said Israel was "doing the work against terrorism, also paying the price, and also making gestures."
Even as Israel decided to release prisoners, the IDF arrested on Sunday a Palestinian who was pardoned last month by Israel. Faris Nazar, a 21-year-old member of the Tanzim terror group, was apprehended at his home in Kfar Kalil, near Nablus.
IDF sources said Nazar was among the 178 Palestinian terror suspects who were temporarily "pardoned" by Israel last month and given the opportunity to return to a normal life in exchange for surrendering their weapons and ceasing their involvement in terror activity. He was the first of those who received this amnesty to be re-arrested.
Central Command sources said Nazar was behind a number of recent bomb and shooting attacks against IDF troops in the Nablus area. The IDF said all of the pardoned fugitives were under constant surveillance and if they broke the agreement they would be arrested.
Meanwhile, defense officials said Sunday that Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to permit the Palestinians to deploy 500 armed policemen in Nablus during one of his recent meetings with PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad.
This is the first time Israel will allow Palestinian security forces to openly carry arms since the second intifada erupted in 2000.
Officials said that if the initiative were successful and the Palestinians combated terror and maintained law and order, it would be expanded to include additional West Bank cities. The officials said that the deployment would not restrict IDF operations in the city.
"This is being done on a trial basis," a defense official explained. "The IDF will also continue to have full operational freedom and will be able to operate anywhere in the city whenever it wants."
On Sunday, PA policemen in Nablus arrested a Hamas operative but Israeli defense officials said that the move did not mean that the Palestinians could be counted on to combat terror in place of Israel. The officials said Barak's decision to allow policemen to deploy was in line with the security cabinet's decision last week to define the Gaza Strip as a hostile entity.
"This is all one lone process," an official explained. "On the one hand, we are defining Gaza as a hostile entity and escalating our fight against Hamas and that needs to be coupled with a strengthening of Abbas and Fayad."
Meanwhile Sunday, the IDF wrapped up a week-long operation in Nablus during which troops apprehended a suicide bomber as well as the head of Hamas in the city.
On Sunday, troops entered a home in pursuit of a terror suspect and found his pregnant wife sitting on their bed. The woman told the soldiers she could not move since she was fee ling unwell. The soldiers convinced her to get off the bed, under which they discovered a pit in which the fugitive was hiding.