Middle East

Olmert promises to release 250 prisoners

Updated: 2007-06-26 10:56
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Palestinian officials suggested the new release was not as much as they had hoped. "We have more than 10,000 prisoners in Israeli jails. So we want a real and practical release," said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat.

Erekat said that during private meetings at the summit, Olmert had made a pledge to Abbas to "restore the situation in the West Bank to what it was before the intifada" - the outbreak of violence in 2000 that led to Israel sending troops back into parts of the West Bank it had handed over to the Palestinians under earlier peace deals.

On Sunday, Olmert's Cabinet approved the release of tax funds Israel had refused to hand over to the Palestinians since Hamas swept Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006. Israel is holding $550 million in frozen funds, but the Cabinet decision did not say how much would be released, or when.

Olmert also promised to allow food and electricity into Gaza, aiming to prevent a worsening humanitarian crisis there that could increase the strip's turmoil.

In a reflection of the worries that taking too hard a line with Hamas could push it deeper into extremism, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak spoke of reopening talks between Hamas and Fatah for the first time since the Gaza takeover. He said a "return to dialogue" was "an urgent necessity that can't wait."

Deposed Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, of Hamas, said he was ready to resume talks with Hamas "immediately." But so far, Abbas has refused contacts with the militant group.

The Sharm el-Sheik summit comes a day ahead of a gathering in Jerusalem of the Quartet of Mideast negotiators - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. The hope is that the meeting in Egypt could lead to more in-depth international efforts to prod peace talks that broke down amid violence in 2001.

At the same time, momentum is growing for outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair to be named as an international envoy for the Middle East. The Financial Times newspaper reported Monday that the Quartet members had agreed to confirm his appointment at their Jerusalem gathering.

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