Israel Frees 300 Hostages - Takes 300 More

M. Junaid Alam junaidalam at
Wed Aug 6 14:25:26 MDT 2003

Israel Frees 339 Palestinian Prisoners

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 6, 2003; 12:35 PM

JERUSALEM, Aug. 6 - The Israeli government released 339 Palestinian
prisoners today, a move hailed by Israel as a good-will gesture and
assailed by Palestinians as a public relations sham in what has become a
growing battle of recriminations in a troubled U.S.-backed peace effort.

The freed prisoners -- a fraction of the thousands of Palestinians being
held in Israeli jails -- were taken by bus to three Israeli military
checkpoints on the edge of the West Bank and one at an entrance to the
Gaza Strip.

"This is very nominal when you release a few hundred people," said Ziad
Abu Amr, a member of the Palestinian Authority cabinet. "Some of them
were criminals, others were about to be released from Israeli jails

"Israel takes this step as a trust-building measure and out of a
commitment to push forward the process that began with the
Palestinians," Arnon Perlman, media adviser to Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon, said at a press conference today.

Although the release of Palestinian prisoners is not a part of the
initiative of the renewed peace process known as the roadmap, it is has
exploded into a contentious political issue between Israeli and
Palestinian leaders.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has requested the release of
prisoners as a confidence-building measure and Palestinian militant
groups have demanded the prisoners' release in return for the
three-month cease-fire they declared on June 29.

Israeli officials have announced the planned release of prisoners
several times and its cabinet voted two weeks ago to release 540
prisoners. Palestinian officials criticized Israelis for releasing only
339, fewer than promised.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported today that the Israeli military
has arrested 320 Palestinians since the cease-fire among Palestinian
militant groups was announced on June 29 -- almost the same number as
the Israeli government released today.

"The arrests never stopped," said Palestinian cabinet member Abu Amr.
"They arrested more, so this is not taken seriously by anyone."

Israeli officials have portrayed the prisoner release as a concession to
the Palestinian Authority. But Palestinian officials complain they have
had no voice in the numbers or types of prisoners released. Israeli
officials have said they will not release any prisoners they say are
directly involved in terrorist activity.

"Sharon wants to fool the public opinion," said Mahmoud Dagher, 30,
after being released at a checkpoint near the West Bank city of
Ramallah. "I have been in prison 5 1/2 years and I was supposed to be
released only in 16 days."

Dagher, who said he was imprisoned for his activities with the Islamic
Resistance Movement known as Hamas, originally was scheduled to be
released in November, according to the Israeli Prison Service.

Researcher Samuel Sockol contributed to this article

C 2003 The Washington Post Company

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