The Israeli Cabinet has voted to release some 100 Palestinian prisoners who are members of Islamic groups that oppose Israel's existence. The move is seen as a goodwill gesture to the Palestinians ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to Washington.
The 14-9 vote on Sunday approved Mr. Sharon's proposal to release up to 100 Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners.
Both organizations are dedicated to Israel's destruction and have carried out frequent suicide bombings and other attacks. But none of the prisoners slated for release has been held on suspicion of murder.
The prisoners are in addition to more than 400 other Palestinians who have already been selected and should be set free in the next few days.
A spokesman for the Israeli government, Avi Pazner, said the vote was intended to bolster the position of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.
The move follows criticism by Palestinians of Mr. Abbas for failing to win more concessions from Israel during negotiations on the international road map to peace in the Middle East.
It is understood that Mr. Sharon wanted to convince the U.S. administration that he is serious about improving Palestinian support for Mr. Abbas.
Mr. Sharon was due to leave Sunday for Washington. He is scheduled to hold talks with President George Bush at the White House on Tuesday.
Ahead of the meeting, Mr. Sharon announced that Israel is preparing to withdraw its troops from two additional cities in the West Bank.
Israel on Sunday also began dismantling some key military checkpoints in the West Bank, allowing traffic to flow freely for the first time in nearly three years.
Palestinians celebrated by cheering and sounding their car horns as one roadblock was removed north of Ramallah.