Palestinian Prisoners to Leave Israeli Prisons

On Wednesday, Israel is preparing to release 339 Palestinian prisoners, which is seen as an important move. Another 100 are to be set free later.

The Israelis present this step as a good will gesture, given nothing like this is stipulated in the internationally-backed roadmap plan of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement.

But the number of 339 is lower than expected - a disappointment to the Palestinians. Besides, many of the listed prisoners were to be released without an amnesty in the near future, along with criminals and persons detained for so-called "administrative offences", i.e. appearing on Israeli territory with no documents.

In addition, Palestine National Authority (PNA) leader Yasser Arafat noted Israel released 400 prisoners, simultaneously arresting another 800.

According to the PNA leadership, the lists of persons to be released should be extended, with no criminals but "political captives", or "POWs" prevailing. The information about their further stay in prisons aroused serious indignation in the PNA, and a number of commanders have threatened once again to withdraw from the so-called the Hudna Treaty, or truce.

The Israelis, in turn, insist they would not set free the Palestinians involved in terrorist acts or linked to terrorist organisations, for it would be "insanity" seriously endangering the country's security. The Israelis believe they have made many concessions already to support the authority of the incumbent Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, in the PNA, not without pressure from the US where Abbas is seen as a democratic peace promoter of the PNA.

The Palestinians do not share this viewpoint, and radical leaders emphasise they were the ones to declare the so-called hudna. And this was not an easy move for them to make, given they had previously opposed talks with the violent "Zionist enemy" as pointless. Now radicals believe Israel should be more flexible and meet the Palestinians halfway as regards prisoners' release, halting the construction of Jewish settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan and withdrawing military units from the autonomy's towns.

Should there be no practical good will gestures on the part of Israel, then terror, or a shahid with a bomb, radicals stress, will be a natural response to Israeli aircraft and tanks.

At present, the Palestinian authorities are conducting serious negotiations with leaders of various organisations, movements and groups, convincing them to observe "hudna". PNA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in particular said this Monday at a meeting with FATH commanders. An Egyptian military delegation is expected in Gaza in the next few days. It will try to convince HAMAS and Islamic Jihad radicals of the importance of hudna, and of the need to extend the truce for at least another three months.

Nonetheless, the PNA leadership is obviously discontent and disappointed over the forthcoming release of prisoners. In this connection, Mahmoud Abbas has even cancelled his scheduled Wednesday meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Later, though, the Israelis reported it was the latter, who had cancelled the meeting in view of an attack on an Israeli car on Monday evening. The attack left a woman and two children wounded.

Andrei Pravov, RIAN