Israel to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners

( [email protected] ) Jul 07, 2003 04:37 AM EDT

Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners are scheduled for release pending government approval next week of a list of names compiled by the Shin Bet. Security officials said the list contains "less than a thousand" prisoners' names, and said none of them have blood on their hands.

As part of confidence-building measures to the Palestinians, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the Shin Bet to compile a list of Palestinian prisoners it recommends for release. Meanwhile Israel released Col. Suliman Abu Mutlak one of the senior Palestinian Preventive Security commanders in the Gaza Strip on Thursday at the Erez crossing, despite government statements claiming that no prisoners "with blood on their hands will be released." Shin Bet officials described his release as "unfortunate".

Reflecting the opinion of a number of ministers, Minister-without-Portfolio for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Natan Sharansky said it would be "problematic" to "repeat the mistakes of the past" and release prisoners before it has been proven there is a genuine partner on the other side.

Sharansky said Israel must be careful not to get into the position where it moves forward, and the other side is not fulfilling its commitments.

Abu Mutlak, who was brought before a military court at the Erez crossing on Thursday morning for a remand hearing, was released by the court judge, who claimed the prosecution had failed to provide sufficient evidence against him. Defense Ministry officials denied Palestinian claims that Abu Mutlak had been released as a gesture to PA Minister of Security Mohammed Dahlan, who had submitted the request during meetings with Maj.Gen. Amos Gilad, the coordinater of government affairs in the territories. "During the meetings between Dahlan and Gilad, the Palestinians submitted numerous names requesting the release of Palestinian prisoners. They were told that each request had to be examined before a decision could be made," a ministry official said.

Since Wednesday, Israel has released 19 Palestinian prisoners, but some were administrative detainees and others had completed serving their terms in prison, officials noted. Mutlak, described by Israel in the past as a wanted fugitive, was arrested on May 5 this year by security forces at the Gush Katif intersection. Israel suspected Mutlak of plotting and planning the attack on the Kfar Darom school bus in November 2000 in which Miriam Amitai and Gavriel Biton were killed and nine children hurt, including three brothers and sisters Orit, Yisrael and Tehila Cohen, at the time aged 12, 8 and 7. They lost limbs in the attack.

The bus had left the community and was setting out for the local school when a 120mm mortar shell attached to a detonator was activated by three terrorists who fled. The shell had been surrounded with large pieces of metal in order to inflict as many casualties as possible.

Noga Cohen, the children's mother, said she was shocked by the decision to release Abu Mutlak who was responsible for maiming her children and killing two residents. "My three children lost their legs... I don't understand how they can release such a person who murdered two residents and took the legs of children. Dahlan is directly responsible for the attack on the bus... What do I tell my children? I always assured them that the government of Israel would ensure their safety... I don't know how I am going to explain to them now," she said in an interview on Israel Radio. "Why are we allowing terrorists to control our lives, why?" she asked.

The Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza issued a statement condemning the decision to release Abu Mutlak, saying the decision registered as one of the lowliest moves made by Sharon's government, which surrenders to terror. "The Council calls on Sharon to extricate himself immediately from the bloody road map trap, which is proving to be far more dangerous then the Oslo trap," the statement said.

In June, Israel released over 100 Palestinian security prisoners as a gesture to the PA, including Fatah member Ahmed Jbarra Abu Sukkar, 68, a terrorist with blood on his hands. Sukkar who immediately went to the Ramallah headquarters of PA Yasser Arafat to received his blessing, allegedly placed the bomb in a refrigerator that blew up in Jerusalem's Zion Square in July 1975, killing 14 and wounding over 60.