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Israel frees prisoners to boost peace talks hopes

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Israel frees prisoners to boost peace talks hopes

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Israel has offered an olive branch to the Palestinians, ahead of next week’s Middle East peace talks, by agreeing to release hundreds of prisoners.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said it was a goodwill gesture to support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel also announced a freeze on new construction work in the West Bank, but stopped short of demands to end work at existing Jewish settlements.

Some 11 000 Palestinians are currently detained in Israeli prisons, many without trial or charge.

Israel said the 441 to be freed were from Abbas’ Fatah movement, and were not suspected of killing Jews.

Saudi Arabia has yet to say if it will attend the peace talks in the United States. Riyadh wants a freeze on all settlement building, and it is not clear if Israel has offered enough to persuade them to take part.