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25 Jun, 2007 21:02

Israel to release Palestinian prisoners

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he would order the release of 250 Palestinian Fatah members from Israeli prisons. He made the announcement at a summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh where Israeli and Arab leaders came together in a show

The leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian authority discussed ways of ending the deadlock in the Middle East peace process. After a day packed with bilateral meetings, the four eventually came together for a concluding round of talks.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak emphasized that all present agreed to the necessity of overcoming the current impasse in peace negotiations, and opening the way for immediate talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.
“The summit saw honest and serious debate on creating a suitable atmosphere for the continuation of peace talks, the means of returning to calm, the building of trust between the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as the pressing need to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people,” he said.
For his part Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert assured that Israel would release frozen Palestinian tax funds on a continuous basis. He added that Israel would co-operate with the new Palestinian Cabinet headed by Salam Fayyad both on economic and security issues, as it was Israel's policy to negotiate with moderates to achieve a lasting peace.
“As a gesture of goodwill towards the Palestinians, I will put before the Israeli Cabinet a proposal to free 250 Fatah prisoners who do not have blood on their hands, after they sign a commitment not to return to violence,” Ehud Olmert said.

Mahmoud Abbas, on the other hand, stressed that this new chance for a peace deal with Israel must not be lost. He also asked Mr Olmert to ease the economic situation of the Palestinian people.
“The Palestinian prisoners issue was a major part of President Abbas' talks with Prime Minister Olmert. We want to see concrete steps for the release of our prisoners. There are ten thousand Palestinians in Israeli jails and they must be freed and exercise their normal rights. Their release is a fundamental issue for us,” said Saeb Eraeqat, a top Palestinian negotiator.
The summit concluded with agreement from all sides on the holding of another round of talks between Abbas and Olmert in the near future.  Israel also pledged to release up to 250 Fatah prisoners held in Israeli jails, which is seen as a possible sign of movement on other pressing issues in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.