Israel to Release 250 Palestinian Prisoners

Israel’s interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday announced the release of 250 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture of goodwill towards president Mahmud Abbas, officials said.

Olmert made the announcement during talks with Abbas in Jerusalem which are part of the U.S.-backed peace talks launched nearly a year ago but that have made little visible progress.

The prisoners, a fraction of the 11,000 Palestinians held, will be freed before next month’s Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, Israeli and Palestinian officials said after Olmert and Abbas met.

Israeli spokesman David Baker called it a "goodwill gesture" to Abbas, who launched peace talks with Olmert a year ago after the violent takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas.

Baker said Israel would release prisoners from the ranks of Abbas’s secular Fatah faction and other non-Islamist groups.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said, "Abbas had asked him to free Palestinian prisoners and Olmert told him of the decision to release 250 at the beginning of Dec." ahead of the Eid.

The Israeli official said that none of the prisoners belonged to the radical Palestinian movements such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

In their talks in Jerusalem, Abbas urged Israel to abide by a 5-month-old, Egyptian-brokered truce with Hamas that came close to collapse during two-weeks of cross-border violence.

Abbas had termed Israel’s tightened blockade of the Gaza Strip a "war crime." Israeli officials blamed cross-border rocket fire by Hamas and other groups for the escalation.

Olmert told Abbas there was "no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip," and Israel would not let one develop.

Before they met, Israel opened one of Gaza’s main border crossings for the first time in two weeks, allowing in 30 truckloads of humanitarian supplies.

Journalists and some diplomats were still barred entry.

(Agencies via Alarabiya.net)

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