“We are pleased with the release of every prisoner, but we regret the fact that the Israeli side continues to insists on not including us in the process of determining the criteria for the release of prisoners,” a senior Fatah official told Ynet on Tuesday.
Ziad Abu Ein, director-general of the Palestinian Ministry of Detainees, said the Palestinians should “not be overjoyed” with the expected release of 250 prisoners on Friday.
“Since (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert announced at Sharm el-Sheik that he would release the prisoners, Israel has detained 326 Palestinians,” he said. “This sort of attitude attitude invites extremism, instead of an attitude that will build a bridge for renewed understanding and trust between the nations.”
According to Abu Ein, some 11,000 Palestinians are still being held in Israeli jails, including 431 minors and 127 women.
“We hoped the Israelis would take the feelings of the Palestinian prisoners and their families into consideration and act with the aim of restoring the Palestinian public’s faith in the peace process,” he said.
“It is true that we welcome any prisoners release and hope it will facilitate the release of more prisoners, but the truth is that we had hoped for a larger number. We hoped that those slated for release would be of higher quality.
“Shouldn’t these prisoners be released for the sake of peace? Is peace not worth this price? Or do the Israelis release prisoners only under coercion, when their people are kidnapped?” Abu Ein said.
'Sliver of hope'
According to him, a possible prisoner exchange deal for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit would include the release of Palestinians serving lengthy prison sentences as well as some of those with “blood on their hands”.
Abu Ein said some of the Palestinians’ disappointment stems from the fact that prominent Palestinian figures, including members of parliament, were not on the list of prisoners slated for release on Friday.
“We demand a clear schedule for the release of all the prisoners to give the Palestinian public a sliver of hope,” he told Ynet.
Despite the relative disappointment regarding the list of prisoners due for release, the Palestinian Authority is making efforts to coordinate the arrival of all the prisoners to Ramallah for a formal reception hosted by President Mahmoud Abbas.
In past prisoner releases Israel would transport the freed inmates to checkpoints near their villages, but Abu Ein said that the PA has been in touch with Israel Tuesday evening concerning a change in that policy "so that we can give the prisoners an official welcome.
"We want them to be received at the Mukataa by the Palestinian leadership and the Rais (Abbas), who will bless each and every one of them. I have received positive reactions so far this evening; it is apparent that Israel will help us with this," said Abu Ein.