Israel's decision to release 200 prisoners as a gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is aimed at intensifying the conflict between Hamas and Fatah, a spokesman for the Islamist group said Sunday.
According to Sami Abu Zuhri, by releasing the prisoners "Israel wants to give the appearance that Abbas has achieved something in the peace negotiations, but this is convincing no one.
"We praise the release of any prisoner, but we would like to see prisoners belonging to all of the organizations freed, as we plan on doing in the framework of the prisoner exchange deal (with Israel)," he said.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad lauded the cabinet's decision, but stressed that Israel must free the rest of the prisoners as well.
"The prisoners' release is a victory for the Palestinian people," he said.
Among the prisoners slated for release are two Palestinians who were sentenced to lengthy prison terms some 30 years ago. One of them was convicted of murdering Israelis, while the other sent terrorists to carry out attacks. The names of the rest of the prisoners will be brought to a ministerial committee for approval.
Sixteen ministers voted in favor of the proposal, while four opposed it. A source at the Prime Minister's Office said that according to estimates presented by the defense establishment, the risk that the prisoners with blood on their hand will return to terror "is very very small."
The father of captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit said of the decision to release the Palestinian prisoners, "I am in favor of gestures and the release of even more prisoners – but only after Gilad is freed.
"Similar gestures have not resulted in any progress in the past," Noam Shalit said, "I don't know what Hamas makes of this, but past experience has shown us that such gestures have not advanced Gilad's release."