Israel delays Palestinian prisoner release


The Jerusalem Post

JERUSALEM (October 8) – The Prime Minister’s Office announced last night that Israel is delaying today’s scheduled release of 150 Palestinian prisoners after Palestinian negotiators rejected the list it had proposed.

"The release of prisoners… will not take place at this stage due to the refusal of the Palestinians to accept the list which was presented to them," it said in a statement.

On Wednesday, the government relaxed the criteria in order to release prisoners who committed terror acts since the signing of the first Oslo Accord in 1993 and members of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations.

Palestinian Authority officials said they rejected Israel’s new criteria.

"The Israelis disrespect the categories agreed upon, and we will not accept the Israeli list of names," said Hisham Abdel Razik, who leads the PA’s delegation to the prisoner committee. Abdel Razik met with Arye Ramot-Schiffman, director-general of the Internal Security Ministry, last night in a last-ditch effort to resolve the dispute.

Abdel Razik said he considers the nine Islamic militants Israel intends to release "small fry."

An Israeli security official said that of the 150 prisoners slated for release, the Palestinians agreed to 115 and demanded that the remaining 35 be prisoners who committed offenses before Oslo. The official said that the Palestinian demands "did not meet Israel’s criteria, as they were either involved in the murder of Israeli citizens or belonged to Hamas or Islamic Jihad."

Foreign Minister David Levy said the decision to alter the criteria for the prisoner release had presented ministers with difficult decisions.

"We examined the options, whether to release those who murdered or injured Israeli citizens or those who were due to be released in three or four months," he said, noting that the cabinet had chosen the latter.

"It is very good for us that Israel will release members of Islamic Jihad and Hamas, since it will show the people that the PA cares for everybody, not just its loyalists," PA Planning Minister Nabil Shaath said. But, he added, that they should not be released at the expense of those prisoners who accept the peace process.

"The PA wants all prisoners to be released," he said.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak told a delegation of terror victims yesterday that terrorists who committed murder must remain in prison until their last day. One of the delegation members, Dov Kalmanovitch, told reporters Barak had promised that if there were any further changes made in the criteria, he would inform them. But, he noted, Barak did not guarantee that murderers would not be released in the future.

The High Court of Justice this morning is due to hear a petition by the Victims of Arab Terror, demanding that the government revise its list of prisoners and stick to the original criteria.

In an impromptu press conference at the Supreme Court while presenting his petition, VAT head Meir Indor read out the names of some of the prisoners who were due to be released, including one who was to be set free after serving only three years for murder. Indor said he had received a copy of the list, which contains the names of terrorists who killed Palestinian collaborators and wounded Israelis.

Of the 150 prisoners slated for release, nine belong to the Islamic Jihad and Hamas and 38 were involved in terror attacks that led to the "light injury" of Israelis, according to Prisons Service spokeswoman Levana Levy-Shai.

She cited an example of one prisoner, Walid Ahmed, who she said was sent to prison for attacking an IDF soldier and is among those being released. Levy-Shai was unable to give further details of when and where the attack took place.

Another 38 prisoners murdered collaborators and 74 committed security offenses without causing injury. Ninety-eight committed offenses before Oslo and 43 after. Also included are 47 citizens of Arab countries, and 11 prisoners are under 18, Levy-Shai said.

According to Channel 1, the prisoner release maybe delayed until late next week. In accordance with last month’s Sharm e-Sheikh Memorandum, Israel released the first batch of 199 prisoners on September 9. The second batch was scheduled initially for yesterday, and then for today.