Israel frees more Arab prisoners in goodwill gesture

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Israel has also agreed to release more prisoners at the beginning of December, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Sufiyan Abu Zayda, a member of the negotiating committee on prisoner releases, said he was pleased with the compromise. He expects more lengthy and difficult negotiations before the next release.

Prisoners flashed victory signs from bus windows and others pointed toward the heavens, as they arrived at the drop-off points in the West Bank and at the Gaza Strip border. Prisoners were greeted with celebratory gunshots in the air from police officers and security personnel in civilian clothes.

Family members and friends rushed to the buses to welcome their loved ones, a number of whom have spent 20 to 30 years in jail. Some climbed up bus windows to touch the prisoners, while others climbed on bus roofs and waved Palestinian flags.

None of those released has killed Israelis, but 38 have slain Palestinians who collaborated with Israel.

Israel also agreed to release 17 of the 35 Palestine Liberation Organization members arrested before the Oslo Accords were signed. The Palestinian Authority had specifically requested their release, including some who have been indirectly involved in attacks against Israelis or have lightly wounded Israelis.

Col. Jibril Rajoub, the Palestinian Authority's West Bank preventive security chief who spent 17 years in an Israeli prison before being deported in 1988, praised the release. Rajoub added that he hopes all prisoners would eventually be freed.

The release included 42 Arab prisoners from Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq who fought in the ranks of the PLO. They will return to their home countries from the Palestinian areas.

Israel also released some Palestinians arrested after the signing of the Oslo agreement in 1993, as well as 12 Islamic Jihad and Hamas members who were imprisoned for minor offenses.

Rajoub said all those who are being released have signed forms promising to refrain from terror and violence.