Israel to free Palestinian prisoners in peace gesture03/02/2005 - 12:45:52
Israeli Cabinet ministers today approved the release of 900 Palestinian prisoners – 500 of them next week – and a withdrawal from the West Bank town of Jericho.
The gestures were made ahead of a summit with Palestinian leaders next week where a ceasefire is expected to be agreed.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s security Cabinet, a senior group of ministers, approved the measures during a four-hour meeting in Jerusalem.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will host Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik. Jordan’s King Abdullah will also attend the summit.
The ministers approved the release of 500 Palestinian prisoners immediately after next Tuesday’s summit, an official said. An additional 400 prisoners will be freed within three months.
In addition, the ministers decided the army would pull out of the West Bank town of Jericho in the coming days, the first of five cities to be vacated by the army in the coming weeks.
The ministers also approved the formation of a joint Israeli-Palestinian committee to decide what to do with Palestinian fugitives.
Palestinians and Israelis both said they expect the summit to produce a truce ending more than four years of violence.
A joint declaration of a cessation of violence is one of the first requirements in the internationally backed road map peace plan, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state by the end of this year.
“I hope that a ceasefire will be declared, a halt to all violent acts,” Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres said.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, said that he expects Israel to issue such a declaration.
His negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians are ready to “declare a full cessation of violence against Israelis anywhere, and I expect the Israelis to reciprocate by saying we will stop violence against Palestinians anywhere”.
Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz told ministers today that the military plans to withdraw gradually from five West Bank towns, starting with the quiet desert oasis of Jericho, followed by Bethlehem, Qalqiliya and Tulkarem. Ramallah, the Palestinians’ centre of government, would be last, participants said.
The military would also remove some West Bank roadblocks and open the Karni cargo crossing between Gaza and Israel. Karni, Gaza’s lifeline, was closed last month, after militants killed six Israel.
Mofaz emphasised that all the measures are reversible, apparently addressing concerns by hawkish ministers.
Later today, Sharon aide Dov Weisglass and Erekat were to meet to finalise the summit’s agenda.
more stories like this:
- once per day, no spam.