Israeli cabinet to vote tomorrow on prisoner release

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JERUSALEM, Sep 15 (Reuters) Israel's cabinet is expected to vote tomorrow on whether to release from prison scores of members of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's secular Fatah faction, Israeli officials said today.

Israel has already freed more than 250 Palestinian prisoners, mostly Fatah members, as part of a plan to bolster Abbas against Islamist rival Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in June.

A government source said earlier this month Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert planned to free another 100 Palestinian prisoners ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but the release was delayed.

''The prime minister will bring this to the cabinet tomorrow,'' a senior Israeli official said. He said the cabinet would not specify the number of prisoners to be released but would vote on the principle.

Israeli government spokesman David Baker said he did not have the agenda for tomorrow's cabinet meeting.

The officials said the prisoners would have ''no blood on their hands'' and at least one year left on their sentences. They would be released on condition they signed a document promising not to be involved in violence.

It is unclear whether Olmert has enough support to push through the plan after a series of rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza in recent weeks rekindled calls within the Jewish state for tougher action against militants to curb the salvoes.

If the plan is approved by the cabinet, it will be sent to a ministerial committee which will finalise the list of prisoners.

That process could be finished within a few days, the officials said.

Olmert is engaged in talks with Western-backed Abbas to prepare for a US-sponsored Middle East peace conference expected in November.

The issue of releasing prisoners is highly emotive for Palestinians, who see their some 11,000 brethren held in Israeli jails as fighters for freedom from Israeli occupation in the West Bank.

REUTERS GL AS2252

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