JERUSALEM — Israel said Thurs day that it will free up to 1,000 Palestinians it is holding after the signing of an accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization on expanding Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank, due next week.
The announcement by Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor followed statements by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres earlier in the day that the Jewish state and the PLO had reached "very important understandings" toward an accord.
Peres joined PLO and Israeli negotiators later at a secluded Israeli hotel where they were meeting for the fifth day to hammer out a deal by Tuesday's signing deadline.
Palmor said between 600 and 1,000 prisoners of the nearly 5,500 Israel still holds will be released. About 4,000 were freed when Gaza and Jericho self-rule began in May, 1994.
The fate of the prisoners has been a sticking point in the talks on Palestinian elections and Israeli army withdrawal from West Bank Arab population centers, the second stage of a 1993 peace deal.
Palestinian and Israeli officials said chief among the subjects in contention is sharing scarce water resources.
Peres, who Wednesday met PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in Egypt, told Israel Radio: "Very important understandings were reached. They must now be formulated in writing and with caution."