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High Court Delays Release of Pardoned Palestinians

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Israel’s High Court of Justice has temporarily barred the release of two Palestinian women who were pardoned last week by President Ezer Weizman.

A court spokesman said Monday that the release was on hold until later this week, when a three-judge panel will hear a petition against granting the pardons.

The two women were jailed for their involvement in the murders of Israelis.

When Weizman announced the pardons July 18, he said he had made the decision before Israel’s May 29 elections, but had postponed the announcement until after the vote at the request of then-Justice Minister David Liba’i.

In October, Weizman refused to shorten the sentences of the two women, saying that he would adhere to an earlier pledge not to let prisoners with Israeli blood on their hands go free.

The release of the female prisoners was part of a broader plan to release more than 1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails at the time.

Two other female prisoners were also refused release in October by the military.

The cases of the four female inmates prompted Palestinian officials to charge that Israel was not living up to the terms of the Interim Agreement signed in September in Washington.

More than 20 other female prisoners refused to be set free in October to show their solidarity with the four inmates.

After Weizman made the announcement that he would pardon two of the women, the army said it was considering pardoning the two other Palestinian women, who had been convicted by military courts of murdering Israelis.

If upheld by the High Court of Justice, the pardons would clear the way for the release of all Palestinian women in Israeli jails, including those who had preferred to remain incarcerated to protest the cases of the four women.

In an effort to show that Israel was serious about continuing negotiations with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned the pardons during his meeting last week in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

That concession, along with Israeli plans to ease the closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, contributed to the generally friendly and optimistic atmosphere that characterized the Netanyahu-Mubarak meeting.

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