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THE WORLD

Israel Plans to Free 500 Palestinians

February 21, 2005|From Reuters

JERUSALEM — Israel is to free 500 Palestinians today in its largest prison release in nearly a decade. The move is a goodwill gesture to bolster peace efforts with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

None of the prisoners -- the first of 900 to be freed in coming weeks -- had been found guilty of attacks that killed or injured Israelis. Most had served at least two-thirds of their sentences.

They are to be released at crossing points to the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the biggest release since 1996, when 800 were freed.

Mohammed Dahlan, a close Abbas advisor, said Palestinians awaited a wider release with priority given to long-serving inmates. Palestinians want those who carried out attacks that hurt Israelis to be included in future releases.

Israel has so far ruled out freeing prisoners with "blood on their hands." About 8,000 Palestinians are held by Israel.

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