Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a Middle East summit in Egypt he was ready to free 250 Fatah prisoners in a gesture of goodwill to Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.
Olmert stressed he was seeking reconciliation with moderate Palestinians at the four-way talks on 25 June 2007 in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, called in a bid to to boost Abbas after his rivals Hamas violently seized control of Gaza 10 days ago.
“It is important for every Palestinian to understand that we are extending a hand to those who are willing to have peace and reconciliation with us,” Olmert told Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
“There is no other solution than two states living in peace and security.”
He said he would ask his cabinet to approve the release of 250 members of Abbas’s secular Fatah movement “without blood on their hands” but stressed that those prisoners must commit to renounce “terrorism.”
The limited gesture was one of the few tangible results of the summit, which few in any case had expected would make much headway in reviving stalled peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Abbas and Olmert held talks in Sharm el-Sheikh ahead of the summit, their first meeting since April 15 after a planned encounter in early June was cancelled.
But while much of the summit focused on boosting Abbas and the Western-backed emergency government he set up in the West bank after the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Mubarak called for an end to the rift between Hamas and Fatah.
“Our deliberations today affirmed the parallel need to end disagreements, and unify the Palestinian ranks through dialogue,” the Egyptian leader said.
Sacked Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya quickly responded positively to the suggestion.
“Prime Minister Ismail Haniya favourably received the appeal launched by President (Hosni) Mubarak at Sharm el-Sheikh in favour of a revival of inter-Palestinian dialogue,” Haniya’s office said in a statement.
More than 110 people were killed in the factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah which effectively destroyed a 15-month-old Hamas-led unity government and split the Palestinians into two rival entities in Gaza and the West Bank.
In an earlier gesture to Abbas, the Israeli cabinet on 24 June agreed in principle to release more than 600 million dollars in tax receipts owed to the Palestinians.
The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip meanwhile remains under an international aid boycott amid fears of a humanitarian crisis for its 1.5 million people. Israel has sealed its borders with Gaza except for a minimum of essential supplies.