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Israel to Release 250 Palestinians

Israel will release 250 Palestinian prisoners, despite continued rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

The Cabinet on Sunday approved by a vote of 13 to 5 Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s request to free the prisoners as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in advance of an upcoming Muslim holiday. Olmert promised the releases during a meeting with Abbas two weeks ago. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni praised the upcoming release, but said it must be coupled with tough action against Hamas.

The release was approved despite continued rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, a Hamas stronghold, including a Kassam that struck the center of Sderot Sunday. The attack did not cause any damage or injuries, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported. A second Kassam on Sunday landed on the outskirts of Sderot. Four other Kassam rockets also hit southern Israel over the weekend. One caused damage to a house after landing just feet from the structure.

In response, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the border with Gaza sealed, including prohibiting humanitarian aid from being sent in. The Al-Quds Brigades of Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack, as well as the others over the weekend.

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said Saturday that Israel was moving closer to a wide-scale operation in the Gaza Strip.

Israel released nearly 200 Palestinian prisoners two months ago.

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