Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt — Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday he will release 250 Fatah members from Israeli prisons in a goodwill gesture aimed at strengthening Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after Hamas' victory in Gaza.
Olmert announced the prisoner release at a summit with Abbas and the leaders of Egypt and Jordan that the Arabs and Palestinians are hoping can push forward the peace process and strengthen Abbas' hand.
"As a gesture of good will toward the Palestinians, I will bring before the Israeli Cabinet a proposal to free 250 Fatah prisoners who do not have blood on their hands, after they sign a commitment not to return to violence," Olmert told the gathering.
In his speech, Olmert also promised to "improve freedom of movement of the Palestinian population in the West Bank substantially" and reopen trade ties with the territory, saying he wanted to show the Palestinians that "choosing the path of no terror or violence, the way of peace and dialogue, will bring a better, more comfortable, more peaceful life."
The bloody conflict between Abbas' Fatah movement and Hamas has effectively split the Palestinians between a Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and a West Bank run by Western-backed Abbas' emergency government. The Arabs and Palestinians are pressing Israel to quickly snap up the opportunity to make peace progress with Abbas to boost his legitimacy and swing Palestinians' support his way.