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Hamas Frees 17 Fatah Prisoners


The Palestinian militant group Hamas has freed 17 jailed members of the rival Fatah faction as a goodwill gesture, ahead of talks in Egypt.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said he decided to free the prisoners from a Gaza jail on Thursday to set the tone for productive dialogue at upcoming Palestinian unity talks.

Some Fatah leaders said the move was insufficient and called for the release of all imprisoned Fatah members.

Egypt has invited Hamas and Fatah led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to meet for reconciliation talks in Cairo on November 9. The two factions have been divided since Hamas militants drove Fatah fighters out of Gaza in June 2007 and seized control of the territory. Mr. Abbas is based in the West Bank.

Egypt is also mediating between Israel and Hamas, which is demanding Israel free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told reporters on Thursday, he believes Shalit is in good health and is not being mistreated.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to the Middle East November 5-9, to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

President George Bush has voiced hope an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal can be reached before he leaves office in January. But Israeli and Palestinian officials have expressed doubt a final agreement will become reality by then.

In other news, Israel's defense ministry closed all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, following a suspected militant rocket attack from the area into Israel. Israeli officials did not say when they would reopen the border.

There were no casualties in the attack.

Israel imposed sanctions on Gaza after Hamas gained control of the territory last year. A truce agreement requires Israel to gradually allow more goods into Gaza if militants there stop attacking Israel.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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