The cabinet approved the release of 250 Fatah security prisoners on Sunday, but the actual list of names is being revised and will be brought to the ministers for approval at a later date. Those released will be members of Fatah who do not have "blood on their hands," i.e. prisoners who had not personally participated in lethal terrorist attacks.
Analysis: 250 freed won't help Abbas
Release criteria: No blood on hands, Fatah members
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told ministers the goodwill gesture would strengthen Palestinian moderates, including Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, encouraging them to go in the right direction, toward genuine peace talks with Israel.
The prime minister said he was "convinced beyond doubt" that the release would not hurt the chances of freeing kidnapped IDF soldiers Gilad Schalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. "Maybe it will even create an atmosphere that will facilitate the process of their release," he said.
Olmert said prior to the cabinet vote that the decision to release detainees was made after thorough consideration and consultation with relevant factors.
The four Shas ministers, Kadima's Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Israel Beiteinu's Strategic Affairs Ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch all voted against the release.
Following the vote, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai of Shas argued that if Palestinian terrorists were being released, then Jews who were sent to jail for attacks against Arabs should also be set free.
Mofaz said the prisoner release would not strengthen Abbas, and he predicted that Fatah and Hamas would be talking by the end of the year.
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter of Kadima opposed the release, saying none of the prisoner releases implemented over the past 13 years had resulted in any activity by the Palestinian Authority designed to reduce terrorism.
Riad Malki, the information minister in Abbas's new government, said he expected the 250 prisoners to be former "military" men from Fatah-controlled security forces.
"If it were in our hands to chose... we would have chosen a group that more fairly represented the body of Palestinian prisoners, from all political groups," Malki said.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the pending release of Fatah prisoners signaled that Abbas was collaborating with Israel. "He should have refused any release unless it includes all Palestinian prisoners," he said.
Olmert had ejected the list drawn up by a committee with representatives from the Justice Ministry, the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) that was to have been presented to ministers at Sunday's cabinet meeting.
The decision to amend the list followed criticism from Fatah officials that many of the prisoners were scheduled to be released shortly anyway.