JERUSALEM, Feb. 3 (JTA) — Israel has reduced the sentences of five right- wing Jewish extremists serving prison terms for killing or planning attacks against Arabs. Israel’s releases of Palestinian prisoners in recent years justified the move, said Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, who had conveyed the recommendation to President Ezer Weizman. Weizman, who subsequently approved the recommendation, also commuted the sentences of five Israeli Arab security prisoners, releasing one for health reasons. The move came as Israel renewed its charge that the Palestinian Authority is conducting a “revolving door” policy in its jails, releasing Hamas activists and others wanted by Israel shortly after they are arrested. Palestinian officials called the Israeli move a provocation. Hisham Abdel Razek, the Palestinian Authority official in charge of prisoner affairs, said Israel had a one-sided policy of releasing Jewish prisoners who killed innocent Arabs, while refusing to free Palestinian prisoners who killed Israelis. One of the Jewish prisoners, Ami Popper was sentenced to seven consecutive life terms for killing seven Arab workers in 1990. Weizman shortened his sentence to 40 years. The other Jewish prisoners included Yoram Skolnik, convicted of shooting a handcuffed Palestinian terrorist in 1993; Nehemia Mashbaum, convicted of killing a Palestinian when he threw a grenade into an Arab butcher’s shop in 1992; and Yehoyada and Eitan Kahalani, convicted of planning attacks on Arabs. Hanegbi did not confer with attorneys at the Prosecutor’s Office prior to making the recommendation. Though not obligated to do so, the practice is usually followed by the justice minister. After the decision was announced, Hanegbi denied charges that it was timed to help his chances when Likud primaries are held next week to determine the party’s slate of Knesset candidates in the May elections. Under the Wye agreement, Israel and the Palestinian signed last October, Israel promised to release 750 Palestinian prisoners in three phases. After most of those freed in the first phase were common criminals, violent protests erupted late last year in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel insisted at the time that it had never agreed to free Palestinian terrorists with blood on their hands. Aryeh Schumer, the director general of the President’s Office, said the decision to commute the sentences of the Jewish and Arab prisoners had been made in a “spirit of reconciliation.” Schumer said all the prisoners had expressed regret for their actions. None of the Israeli Arab prisoners were serving time for killing Jews, he added. Weizman rejected seven commutation requests and is still reviewing 20 other cases, Schumer added.
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