Israel Releases Two Hamas Leaders, but 650 Prisoners Refuse to Sign Pledge

Israel this week released two former leaders of the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement who apparently signed a document renouncing violence and “terror.”

But another 650 Palestinians preferred to remain in jail rather than sign the document, and Israeli officials — who had originally planned to release some 1,000 Palestinians this week — obliged them by keeping them imprisoned.

Israel has claimed the right to have a signed document from each prisoner that it releases under the terms of the May 4 Cairo agreement for implementing Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the Jericho district in the West Bank.

A total of about 170 Palestinians were freed from Israeli jails on Thursday. Among the group were 30 Muslim militants, including the two Hamas leaders, identified as Saiyed Abu Misameh and Imad al-Falouji. Each had headed Hamas at different points after the group’s founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, was jailed by Israel in 1989.

Of those released, those who had been serving long prison terms were required to serve the balance of their terms in the Jericho autonomous district. The rest were allowed to return to their homes in other parts of the West Bank, despite the violent objections of settlers and their allies.

Earlier in the week, Jewish settlers living in areas near Jericho protested what they described as undue hardships placed on them as a result of their proximity to the autonomous district.

Claiming that the government had reneged on its promises to supply them with financial assistance after Jericho became autonomous, some 20 of the protesters chained themselves to a gate leading to the border with Jordan on Monday.

The demonstrators were from the Na’ama farming settlement, which is adjacent to the Jericho district and which the settlers say has suffered financially since Palestinian self-rule began last month.

Touring the Jordan Valley on Tuesday, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin visited the chained protesters. On Thursday, he promised to provide them with a $5 million long-term, no-interest loan in an effort to ease their financial plight.

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