Israel frees 198 Palestinians; Rice starts latest peace mission

From Reuters

Israel freed 198 Palestinian prisoners to a hero’s welcome in the West Bank on Monday, seeking to bolster Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began a peace mission. Rice acknowledged that it would be hard to strike a deal this year.

The longest-serving Palestinian prisoner in Israeli custody, Said Atabeh, 57, was among those freed. He was arrested in 1977 and sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of involvement in bombings that killed an Israeli woman and wounded dozens of people.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said the releases weren’t easy but could “serve to strengthen” the peace process.