PA, Hamas praise prisoner release

Cabinet approves Olmert's pledge to Abbas to free 250 Palestinians; six ministers oppose decision.

Poor Palestinian prisoners 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Poor Palestinian prisoners 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Senior PA negotiator Saeb Erekat on Sunday afternoon praised the cabinet's approval of a pledge made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to release 250 Fatah prisoners as a goodwill gesture to mark the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Erekat said the prisoners' issue was a top priority for the Palestinian people, Army Radio reported. He added that Israel had not yet notified the Palestinian Authority whether jailed Fatah-Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti would be released. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum also approved of the decision. "We praise the release of every Palestinian prisoner from Israeli jails and await their return to their homes and families, as they were arrested due to a policy of crime and terror," the Hamas spokesman said. Barhoum added that Hamas demands the release of all Palestinian prisoners. The decision to release the Palestinian prisoners was made at Sunday's cabinet meeting. The cabinet voted 13-4 to release the prisoners, making good on a promise Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made two weeks ago at a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to release the prisoners as a goodwill gesture. The four votes against the proposal came from Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, Galilee and Negev Development Minister Ya'acov Edri, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai and Minister-without-Portfolio Yitzhak Cohen. Cohen said before the meeting that he opposed the release because previous prisoner releases "didn't lead to anything. There is no progress in the negotiations for [kidnapped IDF soldier St.-Sgt.] Gilad Schalit. There is no reason to release any prisoners. In fact, we should deny them visitation rights." On the other hand, Environment Minister Gideon Ezra, who voted for the deal, told Israel Radio there was no connection between the lists of prisoners being demanded by Hamas, and those Israel was willing to release as a gesture to Abbas. "I think Abu Mazen [Abbas] has made efforts over the last few months to stop terrorism that we have never seen in the past, and we are obligated to do what we can do to make things easier for him without harming the security of the state," he said. According to senior government sources, the underlying logic behind this prisoner release - and previous ones like it - is to weaken Hamas. The sources said that the relatives of prisoners were an effective lobby in Palestinian society, and that when the families of Hamas prisoners saw that only Fatah prisoners were being released, they would begin asking difficult questions. Israel holds more than 9,000 Palestinian prisoners.