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Israel Approves Release of Some Palestinian Prisoners - 2003-07-06

Israel's Cabinet has approved a plan to release a number of Palestinian prisoners. The release is a key Palestinian demand for keeping to the current cease-fire and for moving ahead with the so-called Roadmap international peace plan.

The debate was heated, but the motion to release a certain number of Palestinian prisoners passed by a vote of 13-8.

Cabinet members were given a list of several hundred prisoners, whose names had been compiled by Israel's domestic security agency, Shin Bet.

The final decision of who will be released, and when, will be up to a special ministerial committee.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said no prisoners responsible for killing Israelis would be released from custody. Israeli security officials have said no one deemed an immediate threat to Israel will be released from prison.

Israel is estimated to be holding more than 6,000 Palestinian prisoners. The Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs, Hisham Abd al-Raziq, says all must be set free to preserve the cease-fire agreed to by the three main Palestinian militant groups a week ago.

The truce has sharply reduced violence in recent days, despite some sporadic incidents and violations.

The prisoner release issue, as well as the further withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestinian areas, were also on the agenda during talks between Israel's Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and the top Palestinian security official, Mohammed Dahlan. Mr. Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas are expected to meet in several days to discuss progress made in trying to defuse tension and ways to move ahead to end 33 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence.