Israel today released 198 Palestinian prisoners in an effort to bolster Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, the AFP reports. The release, on the eve of a visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, included two prisoners held since the late 1970s who were convicted of murdering Israelis. One of them, a Fatah party member who killed an Israeli settler in Hebron, was elected to parliament in 2006.
In Ramallah, Abbas told a welcoming crowd, “The release of this group fills us with joy, but we will not be satisfied until all prisoners are released.” One Israeli politician, a contender to succeed Ehud Olmert as prime minister, said “this is a decision conveying weakness and an acceptance of the existing situation,” the BBC reports. One prisoner was struck from the list because he was from Hamas-controlled Gaza; ministers voted to block his release until Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is freed, Haaretz reports.