Last update - 18:22 02/12/2007
Barghouti: Release of only 429 Palestinian prisoners is 'joke'
By Shahar Ilan and Jonathan Lis, Haaretz Correspondents
Imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti on Sunday called Israel's release of just over 400 Palestinian prisoners "a joke," after members of the Knesset's Internal Affairs and Environment Committee visited him at the Hadarim prison.
In an answer to committee chairman MK Ophir Pines-Paz's question, Barghouti said that Israel could have easily freed 8,000 Palestinian prisoners and added that the prisoners that are due for release were supposed to be released anyway in a few months.
On Monday, 429 Palestinian prisoners will be released from Israeli jails, as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The prisoner release was supposed to be held on Sunday, but was postponed to Monday at the Palestinian Authority's request.
Barghouti also complained that prisoners are not allowed to make telephone calls. This complaint was also raised at a later meeting between committee members and Israel Prison Services Commissioner Benny Kaniak, after Pines-Paz asked why it was possible for Yitzhak Rabin's murderer Yigal Amir to carry a cellular phone and Palestinian prisoners were not even allowed to hold phone conversations.
Kaniak responded that Israel Prison Services (IPS) were the only ones fighting to limit Amir's freedoms, and maintained that every extra right given to Amir was made by a legal decision.
Kaniak also said that there are some jail cells that are unfit for humans, and added that the IPS would invest NIS 20 million in renovating older prison cells.
In March 2009, the first private prison is due to open its doors. Kaniak said that in the past eight years in the United States the number of prisoners grew five times its original number, where many prisons have gone through privatization processes.