JERUSALEM Ñ Israel has agreed to a U.S. request to release detainees
from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Israeli officials said the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has
pledged to release an undetermined number of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members
from Israeli prisons over the next few weeks. They said Hamas would be
included in an Israeli program to release Palestinian detainees who have not
been convicted of killing Israelis.
Officials said several hundred Hamas detainees, most of them clerics,
could be released under the commitment relayed by the Sharon government.
Nearly 7,000 Palestinians were said to be detained in Israeli jails and the
Palestinian Authority has been calling for a release of all of the
Last week, the Sharon government said it would not release Hamas or
Islamic Jihad prisoners. The government assertion had sparked warnings that
Hamas would not honor its commitment to suspend attacks against Israel for
the next three months.
Assuming the unassumable
Those who believe that an unplanned, random "Big Bang" explosion of unknown matter caused the formation of the numberless bodies of the cosmos have more faith that fanatics. They also conveniently ignore some obvious points of information: Read on . . .
"We always had a fall-back position that took into account whether Hamas
or Islamic Jihad would honor the ceasefire," an Israeli government source
said. "At this point, there appears to be a Hamas commitment to honor the
On Monday, Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in
Israel in which two people were killed. The bomber was reported to have been
sent from the northern West Bank city of Jenin.
Officials said the commitment to release Hamas and Jihad prisoners was
relayed on Wednesday during a meeting between Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz
and U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer. They said Mofaz said the
government would examine the feasibility of including Hamas and Jihad
members in the first stage of a prisoner release.
The Sharon government has already agreed to release up to 400
Palestinians in the first stage of a prisoner release. Officials said more
than 2,000 Palestinians would be eligible for release.
Officials said the PA has arrested some Palestinian operatives and
encouraged residents to prevent insurgents from finding safe haven in their
communities. But an Israeli military intelligence report said Hamas has used
the ceasefire to bolster its forces and weapons industry in the Gaza Strip.
The report, based on information provided by the military's Southern
Command, said Hamas has increased production of its Kassam-class short-range
missiles, recruitment of suicide bombers and other insurgents. The
insurgents and weaponry have been moved along the north-south highway in the
Gaza Strip, which has been reopened to Palestinian traffic, the report said.
"They [Hamas] will try to increase their strength," Maj. Gen. Doron
Almog, outgoing head of Southern Command, said. "It's not only military
reinforcement. It is also political reinforcement to seize power."
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