Israeli cabinet OKs release of 441 Palestinian prisoners as Olmert, Abbas meet
The Israeli Cabinet on Monday approved the release of 441 Palestinian prisoners in a gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but stopped short of U.S. demands to halt West Bank settlement construction before an upcoming Mideast peace summit.
The Cabinet vote took place ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas later in the day. The two men were trying to break a deadlock in preparations for the U.S.-hosted peace summit, which is expected to take place in Annapolis, Md., next week. Following the talks, Israel's Army Radio reported the two leaders achieved "progress."
Olmert is heading to Egypt on Tuesday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak, his office said. Arab League members are to decide on Friday whether they will join the gathering.
The Cabinet overwhelmingly approved Olmert's proposal to free 441 prisoners. Although the release would be the largest in years, it fell short of Palestinian calls to free some 2,000 prisoners. "We welcome the release of any prisoners," said Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki. "But this is not enough. We will continue demanding the release of all prisoners."
Olmert told his Cabinet that Israel would not build any more settlements in the West Bank. "Let's be straight, we committed ourselves in the road map not to build new settlements and we will not build any," Olmert was quoted as saying by his spokeswoman, Miri Eisin. However, he made no promise halt construction in existing settlements.
Shortly before arriving in Jerusalem, Abbas stated he hoped his meeting with Olmert would yield progress. "We want to continue our talks regarding the preparation for Annapolis, and we need to hear from him (Olmert) things that will satisfy us, so we can go to Annapolis on a solid basis," Abbas told reporters.