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World - Middle East

Palestinians, Israelis spar over prisoner release

Common criminals being freed instead of political prisoners

November 21, 1998
Web posted at: 8:28 p.m. EST (0128 GMT)

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Even as Palestinians continued public celebrations Saturday over Friday's Israeli pullout from parts of the West Bank, Palestinian officials renewed complaints that Israel is not living up to its end of the land-for-security agreement.

The bone of contention is the nature of the 250 prisoners released from Israeli jails Friday as part of the Wye Memorandum signed last month at a summit in the United States. Palestinian officials say that only 100 of the 250 released were political prisoners, while the rest were common criminals.

CNN's Walter Rodgers reports from the West Bank
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"We didn't go to Wye River to use the services of (U.S. President Bill) Clinton to release car thieves," said Ahmed Tibi, a senior aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. "This is not fair and shows bad intentions."

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Wye accords do not require his government to release Palestinians with "blood on their hands."

"There is no way that I will free murderers," Netanyahu said. "I said at Wye that I won't free terrorists with blood on their hands -- not murderers and not Hamas members."

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat sent a letter to U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, requesting U.S. intervention to force Israel to release 150 political prisoners.

"We urge the Israeli government not to mix between political prisoners and others detained for other reasons," Erakat said.

On Saturday, in the West Bank town of Qabatiya, 35 Palestinian policemen formally inaugurated their new headquarters.

The town was included in Friday's pullout of Israeli troops from 9 percent of the West Bank, the first of a three-phase departure called for in the Wye accords that will eventually turn over 13 percent of the territory to the Palestinians.

Struggle for Peace
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    Residents greeted the town's transfer to Palestinian authority with singing and celebration. A similar scene played out in the village of Tubas, where police Jeeps were escorted by drummers and onlookers waving red, green, white and black Palestinian flags.

    But for Jewish settlers in the West Bank, the withdrawal has meant isolation in a sea of Palestinian-controlled territory. In Ganim, a community of 51 families, many were thinking about leaving.

    "If this place turns into an armed camp, it's not the way we wanted to live," said resident Ilan Amar.

    Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers and Reuters contributed to this report.

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