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More Prisoners to Be Released, Chief Palestinian Negotiator Says

More Palestinian security prisoners are due to be released this week, according to Nabil Sha’ath, chief Palestinian negotiator in the autonomy talks in the Sinai border town of Taba.

Israeli officials were not confirming the statement, but they did indicate that there had been substantive progress in the talks on the transfer of civil authority to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.

Sha’ath, speaking with reporters about the Taba talks, said negotiators had reached an agreement for a release of additional Palestinian prisoners this week as well as on a schedule for future releases.

Israel released more than 600 prisoners Monday in a move designed to build Palestinian support for the self-rule accord that Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed Sept. 13 in Washington.

Another Palestinian negotiator claimed that an agreement was close that would provide for the return of Palestinians who had been deported by Israeli authorities for subversive activities.

But Israeli spokesman Ami Gluska appeared to try to minimize the issue of Israel’s return of prisoners and deportees.

“There is a disproportion between the importance of the subject as it is being (portrayed) in the media and the place of the subject within the context of the negotiations,” he told Israel Television.

Before the talks resumed this week, Sha’ath sent a message condemning the murders of two Israeli soldiers by the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas to the head of the Israeli negotiating team, Maj. Gen. Amnon Shahak.

The two hitchhiking army reservists were picked up Sunday in Gaza by two Hamas men posing as religious Jews. The reservists were shot in the head and their bodies left at the side of a road.

In Gaza on Wednesday, Israeli security forces released a fugitive belonging to the PLO’s A1 Fatah wing, in an apparent concession to Palestinian negotiators who have demanded that the Israel Defense Force halt its hunt for fugitives.

Halil Hussein Zino, 23, a member of the militant Fatah Hawks group, was released after he promised not to engage in further terrorist acts.

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