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Israel to Release 400 Palestinian Prisoners

Israel's cabinet approved Sunday the release of 400 Palestinian prisoners as a long-awaited move to fulfill part of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's promises in February.

Sharon told the weekly cabinet meeting that the release would bolster the moderate Palestinian leadership ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported.

But Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposed the release, said the move would only encourage terrorists who view the release as a victory.

This is the second phase of the Israeli promises to release 900 Palestinian prisoners that was made as a goodwill gesture before the Sharm el-Sheikh summit on Feb. 8 between Sharon and new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel released the first batch of 500 prisoners on Feb. 21 after the summit.

According to the report, none of the 400 prisoners to be freed have "Israeli blood on their hands". Unlike the previous release, not all those who appear on the new list have served more than two-thirds of their sentence.

A large number of them were involved in shooting and bombing attacks, trading weapons, manufacturing bombs and a few were involved in the murders of suspected collaborators.

As before, once a special ministerial committee has approved the list, it is to be handed over to the Justice Ministry for review and then submitted to President Moshe Katsav, before being published on the Prisons Service Web site 48 hours prior to their release.

Ha'aretz reported on its online edition that the 400 prisoners will be released at the end of this week.

(Xinhua News Agency May 30, 2005)

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