Israel Releases 101 Palestinians in Gesture Toward Talks With AM-Gaza By Night, Bjt
HALHOUL, Occupied West Bank (AP) _ Palestinian activist Mohammed Zanoun left a prison camp Friday, hugged his son for the first time and said he would leave it to the PLO to negotiate an end to Israeli occupation.
Zanoun was one of 101 Palestinians freed by Israel in an effort to improve the atmosphere before the resumption next week of autonomy talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The releases had more symbolic than practical meaning because most of the prisoners had just a few days left to serve. Still, hawkish Israelis decried the gesture as a dangerous concession.
Zanoun, 28, came home to the small West Bank town of Halhoul after four years in jail, carrying a replica of the Dome of the Rock Mosque he made from yellow toothpaste caps.
He hugged and kissed his son, Faraj, who was born after Zanoun’s arrest in December 1989 on charges of PLO membership, stone throwing and weapons possession. Zanoun spent most of his term at the Ketziot tent camp in the southern Negev Desert and had one month left to serve.
Flanked by his mother, Khadra, 60, and wife, Ataf, 24, he vowed to find a job and spend time with his family to make up for the lost years.
″My role (as an activist in the Palestinian uprising) is finished and it’s up to the negotiators now,″ Zanoun said. He said he supported the Israel-PLO accord on autonomy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank region of Jericho.
Istaeli troops were to have begun withdrawing from Gaza and Jericho on Dec. 13, but the pullout was delayed mainly because Israel and the PLO cannot agree on who will control border crossings into the autonomous areas.
In the Shati refugee camp in Gaza, released prisoner Mufeed Nawajha said the delay had muted the initial euphoria over the accord in Ketziot, where he spent much of his five-year term. Most of the prisoners there are ″depressed and extremely disappointed,″ said Nawajha, who got out 13 days early.
Nawajha also scoffed at Friday’s releases, saying they were too little too late. ″If Israel wants to show real good will, it is not with releases like this, but by letting the old and the sick go,″ he said.
The army said those released belonged to the PLO’s mainstream Fatah organization led by PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. It said that only those ″without blood on their hands″ were being let go.
No members of the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements were among those released, nor were followers of radical leftist groups within the PLO that are fighting the autonomy plan.
Freedom for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons has been a key demand of the PLO from the start of negotiations. The Israelis released 617 prisoners in late October.
Before Friday’s release, 4,958 Palestinians were being held in military prisons and 3,200 were in other jails, the army said. However, the Mandela Institute, a human rights group based in the West Bank town of Ramallah, estimates Israel holds 11,700 Palestinians.
Many are held on minor charges like raising the Palestinian flag, acts no longer considered illegal. Hundreds of others have been implicated in the killing of Israelis, and Israel insists they not be freed.
Also Friday, Jordan and the PLO signed a broad cooperation agreement that will give Amman an important say in Palestinian economic policy in Gaza and Jericho after they gain autonomy.
Meanwhile, Israel TV reported that the government has drawn up a secret plan to pave about 420 miles of roads in the West Bank to ensure safe passage for Israelis once much of the area, except for Jewish settlements, is run by the Palestinians. The $670 million project is not included in Israel’s 1994 budget, it said.