Israel to release 30 Palestinian prisoners from Gaza on Tuesday
Israel frees 57 Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank in bid to boost Abbas; none of prisoners are from Hamas.
Israel will release 30 Palestinian prisoners who reside in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, one day after the release of 57 prisoners from the West Bank.
The Israel Prisons Service freed the 57 West Bank residents from the Ketziot prison in the Negev late Monday morning, as part of an effort to bolster the government of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Another 30 prisoners from the Gaza Strip were expected to be freed Monday as well, but their release was delayed due to procedural and legal questions.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said the prisoners from Gaza would be released on Tuesday. A statement said President Shimon Peres signed all of the Gaza pardons.
Security officials said IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi had sent Peres a letter expressing reservation about the prisoner release, saying it was immoral to free prisoners to Gaza while militants there continue to hold abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. Ashkenazi did, however, give the necessary approval to the release despite his reservations.
Peres, as president, has to authorize sentence commutations, and did not sign off until late in the day. Peres spokesman Yoram Dori refused to comment on the defense officials' report or discuss the delay.
Peres' signature was not required for the release of West Bank-based prisoners because the area is under the authority of the Israel Defense Forces and the men were freed in accordance with an order signed by an IDF general.
The 87 prisoners are mostly members of Fatah, along with several who are members of smaller Palestinian factions. None belong to Hamas.
Israel holds around 11,000 Palestinian prisoners, and their release has long been a central Palestinian demand.
Meanwhile, IDF troops shot and injured a Palestinian teen who was waiting with hundreds of Palestinians at a Gaza Strip crossing for their relatives to be released, medics and witnesses said. The boy, 14, was moderately injured, the medics said. The IDF troops began firing from watchtowers at the Erez crossing when the Palestinians began approaching a no-man's zone separating Gaza from Israel, the witnesses said.
The army said troops opened fire at Palestinians who approached army positions at Erez and ignored warning shots. The soldiers aimed for their legs to avoid fatal injuries, the military said
Waiting in Gaza After their release on Monday, the freed prisoners arrived at the army's Beituniya checkpoint, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, after a two-hour journey from Ketziot. The prisoners got off Israeli buses and kissed the ground before boarding a Palestinian bus. An ecstatic crowd of waiting relatives clapped and waved Palestinian flags.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced the prisoner release, the second since July, last month as part of his strategy to support Abbas in his power struggle with Hamas. While many of those released Monday were serving time for militant activity, none was convicted of killing or injuring Israelis.
In Gaza City, a group of Palestinians with relatives in Israeli prisons gathered at the Red Cross offices, holding photographs of their imprisoned loved ones. One mother, Fatima Kaisi, said her 24-year-old son Mohammed is serving a 250-year sentence for his involvement in the radical militant group Islamic Jihad.
"I'm happy for the mothers who are getting their sons back today, but the leaders have to know that there are hundreds of mothers and families still waiting to meet with their loved ones," Kaisi said.