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Israel Frees More Than 300 Palestinian Prisoners - 2003-08-06

Israel released more than 300 Palestinian prisoners Wednesday to the joy of family members who greeted them at five locations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The move is considered a goodwill measure by Israel to promote peace with the Palestinians.

Some of the Palestinian prisoners flashed victory signs, while others kissed the ground before rushing to embrace their relatives who greeted their arrival with cheers and whistles.

Israel said that the move is a confidence building measure to shore up support for the leadership of Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas.

But the Palestinian Authority dismissed the releases as a public relations exercise and refused to hold any official public reception for the prisoners.

Nabil Abu Rudeinah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, said the release of the prisoners is inadequate.

He said that Israel should free all 6,000 Palestinian prisoners it holds and take other measures as a sign of good will. "The Israelis should release all the prisoners and should withdraw from the Palestinian cities and stop building the wall, which is against the will of the world community," Mr. Rudeinah said.

The security fence being built in the West Bank is an irritant for the Palestinians who call it a new Berlin Wall.

Israel has responded to calls for further releases by saying those Palestinians who have been held in connection with the murder of Israelis will remain behind bars.

Among those released Wednesday were members of Islamic Jihad and Hamas, two groups that have vowed to destroy Israel, but none of these prisoners had been held for carrying out violent attacks.

About 100 other Palestinians, who were held for criminal offenses, are expected to be set free in the coming days.