Israel released 159 Palestinian prisoners today as part of a good will gesture towards both Egypt and moderate Palestinians seeking to win the upcoming elections in the Palestinian territories.
Palestinain Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, the favorite to win the January 9th elections to succeed Yasser Arafat has demanded the release of many more prisoners, calling for a 'serious release' of those presently held by Israel.
The former prisoners were greeted by eager relatives and friends at a check point near Ramallah. Many flashed 'victory' signs as they hugged their loved ones.
113 of the detainees were being held for security violations while 46 were held for illegally entering Israel. None of those released had 'blood on their hands,' meaning that they were not known to be directly responsible for killing Israelis. Israel has long refused to release prisoners that took part in the planning of terrorist attacks.
'I respect the release of every prisoner, but we need a serious release process,' Abbas said. Abbas has made the release of additional prisoners a key part of his election platform. Abbas is a moderate who favors the end of terrorist attacks and engaging Israel in dialogue and peaceful negotiations.
An Israeli government spokesman told reporters, 'We look forward to renewing a dialogue with our Palestinian neighbors, and in this framework there is the possibility of further prisoner releases if of course Palestinians work to meet their commitment to stop terrorism and engage in reforms.'