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Israel Finalizes List of 250 Palestinians Prisoners to Be Freed

Israel has put the final touches on plans for a release of Palestinian prisoners. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, many Israelis and Palestinians doubt the plan will achieve its aim of boosting the peace process.

Israel has finalized a list of 250 Palestinian prisoners slated for release. They are from the Fatah faction of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He heads a moderate government in the West Bank after the violent takeover of the Gaza Strip by the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says it is a goodwill gesture to Mr. Abbas, because he opposes violence and supports the peace process.

"I promised the Palestinians that our government will consider the new Palestinian government, free of any Hamas people, as a genuine partner," he said.

But the prisoner release has been criticized by Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Palestinians are disappointed because the list is made up of people who have nearly completed their terms. Palestinian spokesman Mustafa Barghouti says if Israel wants to strengthen Mr. Abbas, it is not enough.

"They're restricting their support by declaring that they will release only 250 prisoners out of 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and while they are arresting almost 200 every month," he said.

If it is not enough for Palestinians, it is too much for many Israelis. Rabbi Stuart Weiss, whose son was killed in a Palestinian attack, says releasing prisoners will bring more terror.

"To free individuals who are almost without question going to perpetrate many more murders, as has been the case, conclusively proven, in the past is certainly something that can only spell disaster for the nation at large," he said.

Reassuring the public, the Israeli government says the prisoners on the list do not have "Jewish blood on their hands," meaning they were not directly involved in attacks on Israelis.