Israel's cabinet voted on Sunday to free 90 Palestinian prisoners in a bid to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of a U.S.-backed peace conference, an official said on Saturday. "The intention is to make as many gestures as possible to strengthen the moderates," government spokesman David Baker said, according to Reuters.
16 ministers backed the move while 6 voted against it, Israeli reports have indicated. A government spokeswoman said the prisoners could be freed by Tuesday evening.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has recently said he would ask his cabinet to approve the release of Palestinian prisoners. Baker said on Sunday 100 prisoners were up for release.
Israel intends to free members of Abbas' Fatah faction. Only prisoners with "no blood on their hands" and at least one year left on their sentences would be released, and they would have to sign a document promising not to be involved in violence, officials have said.
Olmert had been expected to free 100 Fatah prisoners ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan but their release was delayed.
The Palestinian Minister for Prisoner Affairs said the Israeli gesture was virtually meaningless given the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails. "Israel is speaking about goodwill but if it wants to show goodwill it needs to release 1,000 prisoners or more, not 100," Ashraf Ajrami told Reuters.