Abbas: Israel must free all 11,000 Palestinian prisoners
Israel releases 227 jailed Palestinians as gesture to Abbas; 209 prisoners freed to West Bank, 18 to Gaza.
Israel on Monday released 227 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to mark the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), which marks the end of the hajj pilgrimage.
Of the prisoners, 209 were transferred from Ofer Prison, near Jerusalem, to the Beituniya checkpoint in the West Bank. The remaining 18 prisoners were to be transferred from Shikma Prison in the Negev, to the Erez checkpoint on the Israel-Gaza border.
At his office in Ramallah, Abbas greeted each of the 209 prisoners released to the West Bank individually with kisses on the cheeks, but said Israel should release all Palestinians it was holding.
"Our happiness will not be complete until all of the 11,000 prisoners are freed," he said. "We promise you we will work to free all prisoners from all factions."
Hundreds of relatives and supporters waited on the Palestinian side of the Beitunia checkpoint, waving Palestinian and yellow flags of Abbas' secular Fatah movement and carrying posters of late Fatah leader Yasser Arafat.
The two Palestinian territories have divided leadership. Gaza is ruled by the militant Hamas organization, which refuses to recognize Israel; the West Bank territories are largely under the control of Abbas and his Fatah organization, which is engaged in a sporadic peace process with Israel.
"We hope these releases will be seen as an important confidence-building measure designed to strengthen the trust and the confidence in the [peace] negotiations," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
The Supreme Court gave a green light Monday morning for the release, hours after Justice Elyakim Rubinstein ordered that the state must first reply to a petition against it. The petitioners had argued that freeing jailed Palestinians placed the region at risk of renewed conflagration.
According to prosecutors, an examination of the prisoners listed for release showed that none had been charged with causing injury to Israelis, Army Radio reported.
As a matter of general precedent, the courts rarely intervene with the government's decisions on matters of policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
The prisoners being freed are a fraction of the 11,000 Palestinians held by Israel. Their release was originally due to take place last week, during Eid.