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Israel Approves Release of 250 Palestinian Prisoners

Israel has decided to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in a bid to revive the peace process. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, there is mixed reaction to the move among both Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel's cabinet has approved the release of 250 Palestinian prisoners from the Fatah Party of western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The aim is to strengthen the moderate Abbas government in the West Bank, after the violent takeover of Gaza by the Islamic militant group Hamas last month.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel wants to use every means to strengthen Palestinian moderates. He said the prisoner release could create conditions for the resumption of peace talks.

To allay concerns among the Israeli public, Mr. Olmert said the prisoners to be freed do not have Jewish "blood on their hands," meaning they were not directly involved in terrorist attacks. It will be Israel's first release of prisoners in more than two years.

The Abbas government welcomed the move, but said it is not enough. Ashraf al-Ajrami is the Palestinian Cabinet Minister for Prisoner Affairs.

"There are 10,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails," al-Ajrami told Israel Radio. So, he said, releasing 250 is "a very small number." He also urged Israel to release higher profile prisoners who could influence the Palestinian community to support the peace process.

Hamas condemned the prisoner release. It said the fact that the only prisoners to be freed are from the rival Fatah faction shows that Mr. Abbas is collaborating with Israel.

Israelis who oppose the prisoner release describe it as a reward for terror.