Israel postpones release of Palestinian prisoners

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel postponed the release of 230 Palestinian prisoners until December 15, nearly a week later than planned, Israeli and Palestinian officials said Monday.

The prisoners make up only a fraction of the 11,000 Palestinians held by Israel. The release, described by Israel as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, had been scheduled for Tuesday to coincide with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

“There was a request from the Palestinians for logistical reasons to postpone the release for just a few days, and we, of course, have agreed,” said Mark Regev, spokesman to outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Regev would not specify what those reasons were. Abbas has been attending the haj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Palestinian officials denied Abbas sought the delay. Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said it stemmed from “legal” procedures on the Israeli side.

Israel announced last month that it would free 250 prisoners, but a ministerial committee Sunday approved a list of only 230 names.

Olmert’s office said the prisoners would come from the ranks of Abbas’s Fatah secular faction and other non-Islamist groups.

Such releases are highly emotive for Palestinians, who regard prisoners as symbols of resistance to Israeli occupation.

Israel freed nearly 200 prisoners in August.

U.S.-sponsored peace talks between Olmert and Abbas, rejected by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, have shown little sign of progress.

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