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Israeli Cabinet Considers Release of Hamas, Islamic Jihad Prisoners - 2003-07-27

The Israeli Cabinet is meeting to approve the release of 100 prisoners who are members of Islamic groups that have vowed to destroy the Jewish State. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is preparing to leave for talks in Washington.

Mr. Sharon first met with ministers from his ruling Likud Party, before taking the prisoner issue before the Cabinet. He asked the Cabinet to approve the release of 100 members of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

These organizations are opposed to Israel's existence, but the prisoners in question are not being held on suspicion of murder. Their names have been added to those of more than 400 others, whose release has been approved and are expected to be set free in the next few days.

Mr. Sharon brought the issue before his Cabinet in an apparent attempt to prove to the U.S. administration that Israel is trying to bolster support for Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Mr. Abbas has stated that the release of Palestinian prisoners is vital to keeping peace efforts with Israel alive.

Mr. Sharon is due to meet Tuesday with President Bush at the White House. Friday, Mr. Bush held talks with Mr. Abbas, and most Palestinian officials judged the meeting a success.

In another development, Israel is expected to soon withdraw its troops from two additional cities in the West Bank. Under the plan, the Palestinian security forces would resume responsibility for law and order in these areas.

Mr. Sharon's office announced that Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Security chief Mohammad Dahlan will meet early next week to decide which cities will be selected and the timing of the troop pull-back.