Olmert Orders New Draft of Prisoner List

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday sent back the list of Palestinian prisoners slated for release to the Shin Bet and Justice Ministry, demanding the removal of several dozen names. Olmert ordered that a new list be drawn up of prisoners with more time remaining on their jail sentences.

At today's cabinet meeting, Olmert will ask for approval of the decision to release 250 prisoners who are residents of the West Bank and members of Fatah, as a gesture to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Their release will follow criteria set by Ariel Sharon's government four years ago, starting with the ban on releasing any prisoners "with blood on their hands," meaning any who have murdered Israelis.

However, Israel will consider releasing on humanitarian medical grounds several longtime prisoners from Fatah who were convicted of serious crimes and served in jail for many years. Similar gestures were made under Sharon.

A political source in Jerusalem said that the criteria for release will favor prisoners who have served two-thirds of their sentence, but that if not enough prisoners were found who met the rules, Israel would be flexible and release prisoners who had completed less than two-thirds of their sentence.

A team headed by Justice Ministry Director General Moshe Shilo will put together the list of prisoners with input from the Shin Bet, the police, Prisons Service and the army.

In a related development, The Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam reported yesterday that Ofer Dekel, Olmert's point man in the matter of Israel's kidnapped and missing soldiers, met with Samir Kuntar 10 days ago at Hadarim Prison.

Kuntar was jailed by Israel in 1979, following his conviction for murdering the Haran family in a terrorist attack in Nahariya. Hezbollah is demanding Kuntar's release in return for the release of the kidnapped Israeli reservists Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

Dekel reportedly told Kuntar that there had been progress in the German-brokered negotiations with Hezbollah, which Dekel said had been held up by Hezbollah's demand that Israel release Palestinian prisoners.