Five hundred Palestinian prisoners released by Israel

Monday, February 21, 2005

As part of the confidence-building measures in the newly agreed ceasefire being brokered by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel has released 500 Palestinian prisoners into Palestine.

The release is the largest mass release of Palestinian prisoners for nearly a decade, since the release of 800 prisoners in 1996, and comes within a package of measures agreed by the Palestinian and Israeli governments at the Egyptian resort of Sharm-el-Sheik.

"Releasing prisoners is a very good step," said Jibril Rajoub, the Palestinian security chief.

Abbas and the Palestinian Authority expressed disappointment that Sharon has refused to release larger numbers of the more than 8,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons. Israel has promised to release an additional 400 prisoners in the coming months, with the names to be determined by a joint Palestinian-Israeli committee.

Israel is very concerned that the former prisoners not jeopardize the peace initiatives, and has required each to sign a pledge not to return to violence.

The Israeli cabinet approved Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza and the evacuation of Settlers from the West Bank on Monday, Feb. 21.