Olmert promises to free more Palestinian prisoners

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JERUSALEM, Sep 20 (Reuters) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said today he would ask his cabinet to approve the release of more Palestinian prisoners as a gesture to Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas.

''On Sunday, I will bring to the cabinet a recommendation to free Palestinian prisoners -- without blood on their hands, that identify with the current Palestinian government and commit to oppose terror,'' Olmert told members of his Kadima party.

Olmert did not say how many prisoners would be freed but a government official said the number would top 100.

He made the announcement hours after wrapping up talks in Israel with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Israel will release prisoners who are members of Abbas's secular Fatah faction. Officials said the goal was to bolster Abbas after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June.

Olmert had been expected to free 100 Fatah prisoners ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan but their release had been delayed.

Officials said the prisoners to be released 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.

Israel freed more than 250 Palestinian prisoners, mostly Fatah members, on July 20, in a bid to boost Abbas.

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

REUTERS AK BST0108

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