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Friday, December 29, 2006

Kassam barrage continues on Friday; Prisoners not to be released

Kassam barrage continues on Friday; Prisoners not to be released

Palestinians fired eight Kassam rockets from northern Gaza toward Israel on Friday, Army Radio reported.

One missile landed near Sderot, while another five hit the western Negev. No one was wounded and no damage was reported.

Two rockets landed inside Palestinian Authority territories.

IDF troops reported that they did not identify the launching sites.

Earlier Friday, Israel decided not to release Palestinian prisoners for the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha before kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit was freed.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas last week that he would consider such a move as a goodwill gesture, but the prime minister has not yet held a meeting on the subject, and the Muslim holiday begins on Saturday.

Palestinian officials, including Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat, expressed their displeasure with the Israeli government's decision not to release prisoners before the holiday.

"It's unfortunate," Erekat said of the decision, adding that it would hurt Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's standing.

A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office responded to the Palestinians' complaints, saying "instead of expressing regret, if these officials would abide by the cease-fire, maybe they would get prisoners."

On Thursday night, Israel denied reports by Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh that a prisoner swap was imminent, citing problems that have arisen in the negotiations for Shalit as the reason for the government's failure to reach a decision on the Palestinian prisoners.

However, security forces were easing travel restrictions for Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in honor of the holiday. Israeli Arabs were going to be allowed to visit family in the West Bank, and around 4,000 Palestinians were to be permitted to visit family in Israel.

In addition, Israeli Arabs were being allowed to visit immediate family in the Gaza Strip.

The eased restrictions were going to be in force from Friday morning until Monday. Soldiers manning checkpoints were instructed to act with extra sensitivity during the Muslim holiday period.

Earlier in the week, Olmert mentioned Abbas's request in the Knesset, where Vice Premier Shimon Peres, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Defense Minister Amir Peretz expressed their support for the goodwill gesture; however, a follow-up discussion never materialized.

Peres told Israel Radio Friday that he believed there was still room to make such a gesture toward the Palestinians.

However, Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim said that a premature prisoner release would be unwise, as it was unlikely to be interpreted properly by the Palestinians. "I think that a gesture that in normal times is accepted at holiday time must not happen today because it would be misinterpreted," Boim told Israel Radio.

With AP

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