Israel May Release 4 Jordanians Who Killed Soldier

Israel is considering allowing four Jordanian prisoners, convicted of murdering an Israel Defense Force soldier in the early 1990s, to serve the rest of their sentence in Jordan.

Prime Minster Ehud Olmert pledged a few months ago to King Abdullah of Jordan to reevaluate the possibility of freeing the four, and transfered the matter to the Justice Ministry.

It is common international practice to transfer foreign prisoners back to their home countries to finish out their sentences after a certain period of time, the basis on which the Justice Ministry is scrutinizing the case.

Jordan has raised the matter of its prisoners in Israeli jails a number of times in recent years, and the issue has become a major problem in bilateral relations.

While Ariel Sharon was prime minister, approximately 10 Jordanian prisoners were released as part of the "Tenenbaum swap" with Hezbollah, and another seven in April 2005. All were convicted of relatively minor offenses.

Sharon was opposed to the release of prisoners "with blood on their hands" and rejected repeated requests to release the four murderers of the IDF soldier, one of whom is the brother of a Jordanian member of parliament.

Another 20 Jordanian prisoners are in Israeli jails, some of whom have been incarcerated since before the signing of the peace treaty with Jordan in 1994.

Another problem preventing their release is the refusal of President Moshe Katsav to sign their pardons. It is unclear whether Katsav's temporary incapacity and replacement by Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik will smooth the way in the matter of the four prisoners.

King Abdullah raised the prisoner issue in his latest meeting with Olmert in December, after which Israel permitted 30 people, all first-degree relatives of the convicts, to visit them in prison for the first time.