Israel Begins Releasing 500 Palestinian
VOA — The first group began boarding buses in the pre-dawn darkness,
Monday, at Israel’s Etzion Prison, headed for destinations in
the West Bank and Gaza Strip. All those Israel decided to free
were required to sign statements pledging not to be involved in
government agreed to the release of the prisoners, earlier this
month, as part of a series of goodwill gestures toward new Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas.
400 prisoners are to be freed in the coming weeks. The list is
to be drawn up by a joint Israeli-Palestinian committee.
of 39 Palestinians, who had been deported to the Gaza Strip and
to Europe, have been granted permission to return to the West
Manacled Palestinian prisoners wave at news crews as they leave
aboard buses, from the military prison camp at Ketziot
The prisoner release comes a day after the government gave final
approval to a plan to dismantle all Jewish settlements in Gaza.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the decision to pursue the disengagement
"In all my years of service, I have made hundreds, if not
thousands of decisions -many in regard to life and death – but
the decision about the disengagement plan is the most difficult
of all," he said.
minister says he is convinced the decision that was taken was
the right one in ensuring the future of Israel as a Jewish, democratic
the vote, the prime minister immediately signed evacuation orders
for all Jewish settlements in Gaza and four small ones in the
northern part of the West Bank. The orders give settlers five
months to move and also authorizes stiff penalties for any who
refuse to leave by the July 20 deadline.
President Abbas said, following the vote, that the Palestinian
Authority would ensure that the withdrawal take place without
any violence from the Palestinians.
He says Palestinians
would throw flowers on the departing Israelis – not stones.
also approved a revised route for the separation barrier being
built in the West Bank that is said to be less inclusive of land
claimed by the Palestinians than a previous route. The new route
incorporates six percent of West Bank land, compared to the 15
percent that would have been claimed under the original plan.
Even so, Palestinians were angered by the move, which they say
has usurped Palestinian land and bypassed any negotiations over