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Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Israeli Officials Free Scores of Palestinians



Israel began freeing 161 Palestinian prisoners from its jails on Tuesday in the largest mass release in more than seven months, Israeli security officials said.


The Palestinian Authority called the move meaningless, and Israeli officials said it was meant not as a good will gesture but as a way to ease conditions in prisons overflowing with Palestinians rounded up during nearly four years of conflict.

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The release came less than a week after Palestinian inmates halted an 18-day hunger strike called to protest prison conditions. It was not known whether any of those released had been among the 3,000 who had taken part in the strike at its peak.

Israel's plan called for the release of 137 Palestinians on Tuesday and another 24 on Wednesday, all nearing the end of their jail terms and most convicted of minor offenses like stone-throwing or illegal entry into the country, security officials said.

The officials said none of the freed detainees had been involved in attacks on Israelis. 'These are prisoners without blood on their hands,' a member of the military said."