Israel on Thursday released seven Palestinian security prisoners who live in East Jerusalem, despite initial concerns that this could be seen as Israeli acceptance of Palestinian political claims to the disputed sector.
In the West Bank, meanwhile, Israeli troops dragged dozens of young Israelis from a hilltop where they had set up a new settlement outpost to block the land from being handed over to Palestinians. About 30 settlers were detained.
Since signing the first framework peace agreements with the Palestinians in 1993, Israel has refused to release prisoners from East Jerusalem, fearing it would be seen as acknowledgment that Palestinians in the disputed area have strong ties to Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinians hope to establish their capital in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed. The status of Jerusalem is on the agenda in peace treaty talks between the two sides.
The prisoner release was the fourth since Israel and the Palestinians signed their latest interim peace accord in September. In all, Israel has released 383 Palestinian prisoners held for anti-Israeli acts, but hundreds more remain jailed.
The seven inmates freed Thursday left prisons in northern Israel and near Tel Aviv at midmorning and were driven in a heavily guarded convoy to Jerusalem.
The prisoners had been serving sentences ranging from 17 to 30 years, some for attacks on Israelis in which no one was injured. One, a minor, was serving 16 months for throwing stones. He was to have been released in May.
The Palestinians hope all Palestinian prisoners in Israel will be released by the time the sides sign a final peace deal, due in September.
Also Thursday, a suicide bomber in southern Lebanon blew up his van in front of an Israeli army convoy, killing himself and wounding an Israeli soldier and 12 Lebanese civilians. It was the first suicide bombing in nearly four years in southern Lebanon, the last active Arab-Israeli war front.