Israel to free 250 Palestinian prisoners in goodwill gesture to Abbas
None of the inmates set to be freed ahead of Eid al-Adha are aligned with Palestinian militant organizations.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during talks on Monday to release 250 Palestinians prisoners next month, a spokesman for Olmert said.
"The 250 prisoners will be released in advance of the upcoming Muslim holiday," said the spokesman, describing the move as a goodwill gesture towards Abbas, who revived peace talks with Israel after breaking with Hamas Islamist rivals last year
Muslims celebrate the al-Adha feast next month.
The spokesman said the prisoners Israel plans to release would not be aligned with Islamist movements.
Israel last freed Palestinian prisoners on Aug. 25, during a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has been trying to broker a peace deal. At the time, it described the release of the 198 prisoners as a bid to bolster Abbas.
Some 11,000 Palestinians are in Israeli prisons and securing their freedom is a highly emotive issue in Palestinian society, which regards them as symbols of resistance to occupation.
"President Abbas asked Mr. Olmert to sustain a comprehensive truce in Gaza and to release prisoners. Mr. Olmert agreed to release 250 prisoners early next month," said Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat.
A five-month-old, Egyptian-brokered truce between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip has been tested over the past two weeks by a surge of violence that has included Israeli raids and air strikes in the territory and rocket attacks by militants.