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Israel Says It Will Release Prisoners After Olmert Abbas Meeting


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met for two hours in Jerusalem. And VOA's Jim Teeple reports, Israeli officials said following the meeting they will begin releasing about 250 Palestinian prisoners later this week.

The talks held at the Israeli prime ministers residence in Jerusalem were the first between Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas since a regional summit in Egypt last month.

The two leaders issued no statements following their meeting, but Israeli officials say they will begin releasing about 250 Palestinian prisoners later this week, in a move to bolster Mr. Abbas. Miri Eisin Mr. Olmert's spokesperson says now that Mr. Abbas has formed a new government free of Hamas influence he can expect more cooperation from Israel than in the past.

"We have now a new government. There are security exchanges, there is an evolving economic cooperation, what they met and talked about today were all of the different subjects. What we have is a commitment that Israel made both to release prisoners and try and dramatically improve the quality of life for Palestinians," he said.

Eisin says the two men also discussed how to arrive at a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, but that contentious issues such as the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees were not on the agenda.

At a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, following the talks, Saeb Erekat, the lead Palestinian negotiator said Mr. Abbas also expressed concerns about the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.

Erekat says Mr. Abbas insisted that Israel not hinder humanitarian-aid shipments to Gaza, and he expressed concern about the collapse of the private sector in Gaza because of Israel closing the main cargo crossing point between Gaza and the outside world.

Last month, following the takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas militants, Mr. Abbas dismissed the Hamas-led Palestinian unity government and named a new moderate cabinet led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a respected former senior international finance official.

Hamas leaders criticized Mr. Abbas for meeting with Israel's leader, saying the Palestinian president should instead be meeting with Hamas to try to reconcile Palestinians.

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