Israel to free 87 jailed Palestinians next week

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JERUSALEM, Sep 25 (Reuters) Israel will release 87 Palestinian prisoners a Prisons Authority spokesman said, a move aimed at bolstering President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of a US-sponsored conference on Palestinian statehood.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet approved the step in principle on Sunday and a ministerial panel finalised the roster, which has been published on the Prisons Authority Web site.

The prisoners' release had been expected this week but it appears that arrangements could not be completed before the start on Wednesday night of Jewish religious holiday.

''The release will be on Monday barring last-minute changes,'' the spokesman said.

Olmert's proposal to release Palestinian prisoners for the Muslim fast month of Ramadan had been delayed for two weeks after a series of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip cast doubt on whether he could persuade his cabinet to back the move.

The Israeli government had been expected to release more than 100 Palestinian prisoners. Asked about the lower figure, political sources said several prisoners had not met criteria set by Israel's security services.

Olmert has said only prisoners ''without blood on their hands'' -- a reference to deadly attacks against Israelis -- and willing to sign a document renouncing violence would be freed.

The release of prisoners is highly emotive for Palestinians, who see their nearly 11,000 brethren held in Israeli jails as fighters for freedom from Israeli occupation.

Abbas's office has welcomed the latest prisoner release but said more needed to be done on the issue.

Abbas's Fatah faction lost control of the Gaza Strip in June to Hamas Islamists opposed to peace efforts with Israel that include a Middle East conference planned for November in the Washington area.

Twenty-nine of the 87 prisoners on the release roster come from the Gaza Strip and the others from the occupied West Bank.

REUTERS JK PM1914

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