Tuesday 18 November 2008 (21 Dhul Qa`dah 1429)

      Israel to release 250 Palestinian inmates
      Hisham Abu Taha I Arab News 

            FRIENDS IN NEED: Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert welcomes 
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in Jerusalem on Monday. (AFP)    
      JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday promised to 
release 250 Palestinian prisoners next month, making a goodwill gesture to the 
moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank even as Israel battles 
fighters in the Gaza Strip.

      Olmert informed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the planned 
release during a 90-minute meeting that came amid a new upsurge in fighting. 

      In new violence, Gaza fighters fired six rockets into southern Israel, 
causing no injuries but casting a pall over the talks.

      The planned prisoner release would be the latest in a series of Israeli 
gestures meant to bolster Abbas in his standoff with Hamas. "Prime Minister 
Olmert told the Palestinian president that Israel will release 250 
Fatah-aligned prisoners on the occasion of the upcoming holiday Eid Al-Adha," 
said David Baker, an Israeli government spokesman.

      The prisoner issue is extremely sensitive in Palestinian society. Israel 
holds more than 9,000 prisoners, and nearly every Palestinian has a relative, 
friend or neighbor who has served time. 

      Meanwhile, Hamas yesterday slammed the meeting between Abbas and Olmert 
saying it is part of a plan to eliminate the movement.

      Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, said in a statement yesterday said 
"in the meeting, Abbas will receive more dictations to liquidate the 
Palestinian cause and Hamas movement."

      Barhoum was referring to a Fatah-led clampdown against Hamas supporters 
in the West Bank where pro-Abbas forces rule.

      "Abbas has abandoned all his national obligations toward his people and 
completely adhered to Zionist-American project," he added. Olmert and Abbas 
relaunched peace talks a year ago with the goal of reaching a final agreement 
by December 2008.

      Both sides have acknowledged they will not meet this target. But the men 
hope to lay the foundation for further talks after Olmert leaves office early 
next year to battle corruption allegations.Elections are scheduled on Feb. 10. 
While yesterday's meeting was ostensibly meant to provide an update on where 
peace efforts stand, Israeli and Palestinian officials said much of the session 
focused on the tensions in Gaza. Although Abbas lost control of Gaza to Hamas 
in June 2007, he still claims to be the legitimate representative of the 

      Israel and Palestinian fighters in Gaza have been engaged in tit-for-tat 
fighting for the past two weeks, with militants firing rockets into Israel and 
Israel responding with airstrikes. Seventeen fighters have been killed, and 
more than 150 rockets and mortars have been fired into Israel.

      Israel has closed border crossings, halting shipments of food, fuel and 
basic supplies into the territory. 

      The closure has led to shortages of key items, and the United Nations has 
been forced to halt food aid deliveries to tens of thousands of people.

      - With input from agencies



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