Olmert promises to free 250 prisoners

PM pledges gesture to Abbas for Eid al-Adha; Rivlin: We're tired of Olmert's "political mischief."

goodwill gesture prisoners 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
goodwill gesture prisoners 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised Monday to release 250 Palestinian prisoners next month as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, to mark the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. None of them will be members of the Islamic terror groups. The cabinet must vote on the proposal before any prisoners can be freed. The two leaders met for 90 minutes in Olmert's Jerusalem home in advance of the prime minister's trip to Washington next week for what is likely to be Olmert's last meeting with outgoing President George Bush. Last week Olmert made waves at memorial events for the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin when he spoke of the need to cede to the Palestinians most of the West Bank, as well as the Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. But in Monday's meeting, it was the violence in Hamas-controlled Gaza that was uppermost in the mind of both leaders. "The prime minister conveyed his concern following the latest rocket attacks on the [southern] communities and other terror incidents originating from the Gaza Strip," said Israeli government spokesman David Baker. "The prime minister told Abu Mazen [Abbas] that Hamas is responsible," Baker said, adding that Olmert had warned that if the attacks continued the situation would deteriorate. Israel holds more than 9,000 Palestinian prisoners, and nearly every Palestinians has a relative, friend or neighbor who has served time in an Israeli jail. While Israel has released several groups of prisoners over the past several months, the Palestinians have always said the releases should be larger in scope. The issue of Israel's closure of the Gaza borders in response to the rocket attacks was also raised. An aide said Abbas called on Olmert to ease the restrictions out of concern for the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. According to Baker, Olmert told Abbas that there was no such crisis and that Israel was committed to ensuring that one does not develop. Abbas told Olmert about the activities of his security forces in Jenin and the sections of Hebron under PA control. The talks between the two, which have been going on for the last year, were "positive and constructive," said Baker. "They discussed ways of advancing the peace process," he said. The two leaders plan to met again upon Olmert's return from Washington. Almost immediately after the Prime Minister's Office announced the intended prisoner release, the move was criticized by Likud MK Reuven Rivlin. "Olmert is not relevant to the political process and he does not [have the authority] to make promises in Israel's name," he said. "We're tired of him and his political mischief." Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) said he planned to oppose the move. AP contributed to this report.