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Israel Releases 29 Palestinian Prisoners to Gaza

Israel has released another group of Palestinian prisoners in a bid to shore up the peace process. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the move has been criticized by Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Palestinian families celebrated as Israel released another 29 security prisoners, bringing the two-day total to 86 . But the joy was only partial. One of the released prisoners, Annis Sabah, said all of 11,000 Palestinians in Israel jails should be freed.

"It is not enough," he said. "This is not a real gesture, but rather a way to silence the Palestinian people."

Israel says the prisoner release is a goodwill gesture to western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before an international peace conference in the United States planned for November. Mr. Abbas heads a moderate government in the West Bank, after the Islamic militant group Hamas routed his Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip three months ago.

"We want to see tangible improvements in security issues, in economic issues in other issues for the Palestinian people. We want the Palestinian people to understand that moderation pays, that non-violence pays," said Israeli spokesman Mark Regev.

But many Israelis see the prisoner release as a reward for Palestinian terrorism. In fact, the Israeli army chief opposed releasing the 29 prisoners freed Tuesday because they are from the Gaza Strip. He said it would be immoral to free the men while Palestinians are holding an Israeli soldier captive in Gaza. Corporal Gilad Shalit was captured by militants in a cross-border raid more than a year ago.

The Israeli government delayed the release of the 29 Gazans for a day while it considered the army chief's objections. But the government went ahead with the release, hoping that it will improve the atmosphere for peace talks.