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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel Set to Release 1,000 Palestinians

JERUSALEM -- Israel will free up to 1,000 of some 5,500 Palestinians in its prisons when it signs a deal, due next Tuesday, to turn over more of the occupied West Bank to Palestinian rule, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.


The announcement by spokesman Ygal Palmor followed one by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on Thursday that the Jewish state and Palestine Liberation Organization, which had been struggling to hammer out an accord, had reached "very important understandings" on it.


"There will be a massive release around the signing date," Palmor told reporters, putting the figure at from 600 to 1,000 prisoners.


The fate of Palestinian prisoners has been a sticking point in negotiations for an interim agreement on Palestinian elections and withdrawal of Israeli troops from West Bank Arab population centers.


In announcing the planned release, the spokesman repeated Israel's promise not to free several hundred inmates convicted of killing Israelis.


Thousands among the inmates went on a hunger strike last month demanding freedom. They suspended their fast this month after Israel and the PLO agreed a prisoner release would be part of the West Bank deal for which a July 25 deadline was set.


Peacemakers met Thursday at a secluded Israeli hotel for a fifth day running, grappling with a list of 19 points in dispute, PLO officials said. The sides hope to initial an accord next week in Cairo and sign it in Washington.


In Egypt on Wednesday PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat met Peres, who told Israel Radio on Thursday: "Very important understandings were reached. They must now be formulated in writing and with caution."


Israel and the PLO have been struggling to meet the latest deadline for the accord which will expand Palestinian rule beyond Gaza and Jericho into the West Bank.


Peres, Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, meeting in Alexandria on Wednesday, had appeared to make little progress toward the accord, which has been postponed several times.


Mubarak spoke of an understanding on Palestinian elections and other issues. But he said the two sides could miss their deadline by a few days.


Peres cited progress on what to do about scarce water resources and the redeployment of Israeli troops away from population areas before the 2 million Palestinians of the territories hold elections. He declined to elaborate, saying he did not want to make the progress public until the details were worked out.


Water is one of the toughest issues to be resolved. Experts say some 37 percent of the West Bank Palestinian population do not have running water.


Palmor said: "There is no debate on sovereignty on water resources, just practical talk on how to increase the water supply to Palestinians."


Peres told Israel Radio he welcomed Arafat's promise "of steadfastness to act against terror." Israel has delayed the expansion of self-rule, demanding that Arafat do more to stop Moslem militants from killing Israelis.