Israel starts Palestinian prisoner release
Israel has begun the release of 159 Palestinian prisoners, many of them serving the final months of their sentences, in a gesture to the new Palestinian leadership after Yasser Arafat's death.
Buses carrying prisoners left Ketziot prison in southern Israel for the West Bank border, witnesses said on Monday. Israel planned to release 113 prisoners convicted of security offences and 46 held for illegally entering the country, authorities said.
Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, frontrunner in the January 9 presidential election to choose Arafat's successor, has made the release of more than 7,000 Palestinians held by Israel part of his campaign to encourage militants to lay down their arms.
"I respect every prisoner that is released but we need a serious release process," Abbas told reporters.
A list provided by the Israel Prisons Authority showed that most of the prisoners going free on Monday were nearing the end of their terms.
Many of the inmates were jailed for membership in militant groups but few took part in armed attacks on Israelis.