IDF chief backs prisoner criteria change

Ministerial committee considers freeing terrorists if they were not directly involved in murder.

Ashkenazi Knesset 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ashkenazi Knesset 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The government should reconsider the criteria for the definition of a prisoner "with blood on his hands," IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said Sunday at an interministerial committee meeting to consider relaxing the criteria for freeing Palestinian prisoners. The committee, chaired by Vice Premier Haim Ramon, was briefed by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin, in addition to the chief of staff. Even though Diskin is reportedly opposed to changing the criteria for releasing prisoners, the committee is reportedly leaning toward changing the definition of those with "blood on their hands" - a broad term that includes not only those directly involved in carrying out terrorist attacks, but also those who planed the attacks or provided logistical support. Israel's current policy is that it will not release such prisoners. The recommendations being considered now include allowing the release of terrorists involved in attacks that wounded but did not kill anyone, and allowing the release of those involved in a cell that did carry out attacks if they themselves were not directly involved in murder. In addition to Ramon, the committee members include Livni, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and Minister-without-Portfolio Ami Ayalon. The idea of changing the criteria became public earlier in the month as it appeared that some headway was being made on the release of kidnapped soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit. Ofer Dekel, who is spearheading efforts to bring about the release of Israel's kidnapped soldiers, reportedly wants to see the criteria loosened in order to move a deal for Schalit forward. A few hours before the interministerial committee on Palestinian prisoners met, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the cabinet that Israel would not make any changes on the ground that could endanger its security as long as the Palestinian Authority does not act against the terrorist organizations. Olmert's comments came in response to the murder Friday of off-duty soldiers Pvt. Ahikam Amihai and Sgt. David Rubin near Kiryat Arba. "This incident, perhaps more than any other, again highlights what Israel has been saying throughout the diplomatic process between us and the Palestinians," Olmert said. "As long as the PA does not take the necessary measures, with the necessary strength, to act against the terrorist organizations, the state of Israel will be unable to carry out any changes on the ground that could expose it to dangers and create problems for the security of the country." Olmert said Israel did not intend to compromise on this matter and that this would be an "inseparable" part of the dialogue Israel was holding with the PA. Government sources said Olmert had raised this demand even before the Friday killings, during his meeting Thursday at his Jerusalem residence with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The issue is also expected to be raised when Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei meet this week for the third time since the Annapolis meeting as part of the bilateral talks set up there. Some inside the cabinet called to suspend the talks because of the killings. "The negotiations need to cease the moment there are fatalities," Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai said. "The Palestinians need to stop asking us to fulfill our road map obligations before they fulfill theirs. The negotiations are hurting us, and we need to stop them."