Israel frees hundreds of Palestinian prisoners

Israel has released 256 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails as a show of support for Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah-led government. But Hamas believes the release of just Fatah-affiliated prisoners will deepen the Palestinian divide.

Most of the prisoners were supporters or members of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction and none of them, according to an Israeli stipulation, were involved in the killings of Israeli citizens.

The release follows the promise made by Israeli premier Ehud Olmert last month. He said that Israel would set free some 250 Palestinian prisoners. This is an attempt by Israel to booster the position of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and it is also a gesture of good will.

What Israel hopes is that the move will give Mahmoud Abbas legitimacy, particularly in his political struggle against the rival Palestinian faction group, Hamas, which took over Gaza several weeks ago. Two days ago Mahmoud Abbas called for early elections, so the political stalemate between the two groups is intensifying.

Many people hope that the release of the prisoners could lead to the beginning of the peace process.