Israel's Cabinet on Sunday approved the release of some 200 Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture to the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, has repeatedly called for a large release to boost his public standing. "This is a gesture to Abu Mazen and the Palestinian people for the upcoming month of Ramadan," Olmert told the Cabinet, according to the AP.
In the West Bank, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad welcomed the gesture, but said Israel should release even larger numbers of prisoners. "We welcome the release of any Palestinian prisoner. It is considered a victory for Palestinians," he told The Associated Press during a tour of the northern village of Tubas. "We ask Israeli to change its conditions for releasing prisoners and we ask for the release of all prisoners without exception."
Israeli security officials must still approve the list of prisoners to be freed under Sunday's decision. But the Cabinet official said the release would likely include two Palestinians involved in deadly attacks on Israelis.
Meanwhile, Hamas on Sunday said that the Israeli decision to release prisoners only affiliated with Fatah faction was meant to deepen the internal rift. Dr. Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said that the Israeli step was also meant to give the impression that Abbas had accomplished something in the peace negotiations, but he asserted that the insinuation would not deceive anyone.
"Our people does not want only Fatah captives to be released but prisoners from all Palestinian factions, which is one of the main conditions of the prisoners' exchange deal demanded by Hamas," he said.