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Arafat Releases Prisoners to Mark Holiday; Israel Protests

From Times Wire Services

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat released 54 jailed prisoners, including members of the Islamic militant group Hamas and other opposition organizations, to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

A Palestinian police spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said those freed included both criminals and political detainees, among them some low-level members of the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Leading Hamas figure Abdel Aziz Rantissi and Islamic Jihad leader Abdullah Shami were not among those released.

Ghazi Jabali, the Palestinian civil police chief, said authorities released 40 Palestinians on Sunday. On Saturday, 14 Hamas members were released, according to the group.

“The release was a goodwill gesture on the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr,” Jabali told Reuters news agency. The Eid al-Fitr feast marks the end of the Ramadan fast.

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Under peace accords, the Palestinian Authority is committed to fight militant groups opposed to peace with Israel. It had rounded up about 450 people.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants have killed scores of Israelis in suicide attacks.

Israel called the move a “violation” of agreements.

“It looks like a resumption of the revolving door. Actually, we have no idea who the prisoners released are. This is another violation,” said David Bar-Illan, a senior advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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In Egypt, the government has promised to free 1,600 prisoners to mark the holiday.

Palestinians crowded into grocery stores as they prepared to end Ramadan with a three-day feast.

Muslims in Saudi Arabia and most other Persian Gulf countries fasted for a last day from dawn to dusk Sunday, marking the end of Ramadan. Eid al-Fitr starts today in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Ramadan comes to a close if the crescent moon is seen on the 29th day of the special month. If the moon is not sighted, the 30th day is considered the last day of fasting.


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