Sharon weighing gestures to Abbas

PM: Israel will not release Palestinian prisoners with "blood on their hands."

Israel will not release Palestinian prisoners with "blood on their hands" to prop up Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, because this would also boost the terrorist organizations, senior diplomatic officials said Thursday as preparations were under way for next week's planned meeting between Abbas and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon's top aide, Dov Weisglass, and PA negotiator Saeb Erekat are slated to meet Friday to prepare for the summit, the first since June 21. Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Israel Radio that although Israel was willing to make gestures toward Abbas, this did not include releasing prisoners with blood on their hands. "Any gesture on our part which could ease the daily life of the Palestinians without endangering our security may be considered," Olmert said. "Mr. Abbas cannot, however, hope that prisoners with Israeli blood on their hands will be released." Olmert made reference to easing transportation in the West Bank by lifting army roadblocks and granting additional work permits for Palestinians to work inside Israel as possible gestures. A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said Abbas was in need of a concrete plan of action against the terrorist organizations when he goes to meet US President George W. Bush on October 20. To take these steps, however, he would also need something from Sharon so that he can show his people that he is improving their lot, the official added. "Our challenge," he said, "is to find the right measures that benefit the Palestinian people, but do not the support the terrorists." Among the likely steps are easing work restrictions inside Israel, lifting roadblocks in the West Bank and declaring in principle a willingness to transfer control of the major West Bank cities to the PA. The official dismissed as "meant for internal Palestinian consumption" remarks Abbas made Thursday that he would demand of Sharon that Israel halt settlement construction and stop building the security barrier. "He can say whatever he wants," the official said, "but he will have to settle for what he can get, and what he can get depends on what he will give." Sharon, the official said, would likely press Abbas on the "law and order issues" halting terror, dismantling the terrorist organizations and bolstering PA security control. He said that Abbas brought up the issues of the fence and the settlements, even though he knew very well that Israel would not stop their construction, because of his own domestic considerations. "He has to show that he is standing fast on these issues," the official said.