As a gesture of good will to enhance the ongoing peace talks in Washington, Israel this week implemented measures to ease conditions for Palestinians in the administered territories.
Close to 200 Palestinians were freed Monday from the Ketziot detention camp in the Negev, the first of 600 prisoners scheduled for release over several days.
Altogether 800 Arabs are to be released from Ketziot and the Megiddo jail in the north, in line with a series of confidence-building measures timed by the government to coincide with the current round of Israeli-Arab peace talks.
Of the prisoners to be released, 235 are from the West Bank, and the remainder are from the Gaza Strip.
Cheering Palestinians greeted released prisoners on Monday at the Erez checkpoint at the entrance to the Gaza Strip.
“The released prisoners were jailed for all violations except murder and manslaughter, and all had completed two-thirds of their terms,” the Israel Defense Force spokeswoman said.
Some 10,000 detainees are in prison, she said.
At the same time, the IDF began unsealing streets and alleyways in the West Bank and Gaza Strip where barricades were put up to block intifada activists from attacking army patrols and civilian passersby.
In Bethlehem, small groups of residents watched as an army bulldozer pulled down the concrete-filled oil barrels which had barricaded part of central Manger Square over the past two years following repeated stone-throwing attacks there.
Col. Moshe Elad, Bethlehem military governor, said 30 barricades were dismantled Sunday and Monday in the Bethlehem area, which had been free of disturbances in the past few months. Elad said more goodwill gestures would be made by the army if the relative quiet continued.
As the army carried out its goodwill measures, several terrorist attacks were reported.
A young Arab woman who tried to stab a civil defense guard at the entrance to the Western Wall in Jerusalem was seized and detained before she could hurt her intended victim.
An Israeli who accidentally drove into the Balata refugee camp near Nablus on the West Bank was slightly wounded after being shot in the leg. A resident of Herzliya, the man was rescued by border police. Security forces sealed off the area and searched for the attackers.
In the Gaza Strip, a 20-year-old man kidnapped at the end of last week by six masked assailants, who suspected him of cooperating with the Israeli authorities, was found strangled to death Sunday night, military sources said.
Some 20 Arabs suspected of cooperating with the authorities have been murdered in the past month by their Arab brethren, officials said.