Israel is to release 250 Fatah prisoners in a bid to cement its ever-improving relations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The names of the prisoners have not yet been decided but his cabinet has approved the decision.
The Israeli Housing Minister, Ze’ev Boim, confirmed Hamas prisoners are not part of the deal: “Hamas prisoners can only be released in a prisoner deal which includes kidnapped Israeli corporal Guilad Shalit.”
The prisoner release was one of the topics of discussion between Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Abbas at their June the 25th summit.
Olmert originally said no prisoners with “Israeli blood on their hands” could go free, but the cabinet didn’t rule that out, possibly paving the way for the release of former Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti. He’s presently serving five life sentences for murder.
More than 10,000 Palestinian prisoners are presently being held in Israel’s jails.
They are released sporadically in prisoner exchanges.
This proposed unilateral release could be challenged in the country’s high court, but if it goes ahead it would please the West, also keen to bolster relations with Abbas.