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Israel Frees 68 Palestinian Prisoners - 2003-08-15

Israel is releasing 68 Palestinian prisoners whose planned release was delayed following two Palestinian suicide bombings on Tuesday.

All of those freed had been jailed on criminal charges not related to terrorism - crimes such as illegal entry into Israel and car theft.

The prisoner release comes as Israeli and Palestinian officials try to maintain progress toward peace despite renewed violence over the past week.

Israel has already released more than 330 Palestinian prisoners, including a number from the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Palestinians say the number released is not enough and are demanding freedom for the seven-thousand prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Israel's attorney general characterized the latest release as dangerous. Elyakim Rubinstein wrote in a special opinion he prepared for the Israeli cabinet that Israel is releasing prisoners to a place where there is no law. He said the Palestinian Authority does not have a functioning legal system. He described the situation as a legal jungle.

Israel's Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met with the Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan for four hours late Thursday at an undisclosed site near Jerusalem. Both sides described the talks as positive and that further talks are expected.

Despite that high level meeting, Israeli-Palestinian tension remains high a day after Israeli troops killed a official of the militant group Islamic Jihad in the West Bank town of Hebron.

Israel says it had no choice but to go after Mohammed Sidr, who they described as a ticking bomb who presented a clear and present danger.

Palestinian officials said the Israeli raid could destroy their efforts at maintaining the cease-fire, and "might even open the door wide for renewal of the bloody confrontation that has wrecked the region in the last three years."

Islamic Jihad has vowed revenge for the killing.

The killing by Israel last week of two Hamas militants led to the Palestinian suicide bombings on Tuesday. Two Israelis, as well as the bombers, died in those attacks.