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Israel Releases Dozens of Palestinian Prisoners


Israel has released 57 Palestinian prisoners in a bid to give a boost to the peace process. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, there is mixed reaction among Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel released the prisoners Monday as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. All the prisoners are from Mr. Abbas's Fatah faction.

The aim is to strengthen the Palestinian president, after Fatah was routed by the Islamic militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip three months ago. Mr. Abbas now heads an internationally-backed government in the West Bank.

It was the second prisoner release since July 20, when Israel freed 250 men from Fatah.

The prisoner issue touches deep emotions on both sides. Israeli Terror Victims Association leader Meir Indor says freeing Palestinian prisoners is an obstruction of justice and reward for terrorism.

"Israel is the number-one country in the world that [is] releasing terrorists so easily," he said. "So what is the lesson of the terrorists? That when it is coming to terrorism against Jews, you will be released very soon."

The Palestinian Authority welcomed the prisoner release. Hussein al-Sheikh is a senior Fatah official in the West Bank. He told Israel Radio that it is a very important step that will increase support for the peace process on the Palestinians street. But al-Sheikh said it is not enough.

He said there are 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and they all should go free.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Abbas are to meet Wednesday in Jerusalem. They are trying to draft a document on Palestinian statehood to be presented at an international peace conference in the United States planned for November.