JERUSALEM – Israel released dozens of Palestinian prisoners, including a PLO executive, as a goodwill gesture ahead of a summit with President Bush. Disagreements, however, remained on the fate of more than 100 Israeli settlement outposts set up during 32 months of violence.
Israel released about 80 prisoners being held without charges, in so-called administrative detention, from the Ketziot (search) military prison camp in Israel's southern Negev Desert (search) on Tuesday morning, prisoners and Palestinian Prisoners' Club (search) leader Issa Karakea told The Associated Press.
The army said about 100 Ketziot prisoners would be released Tuesday at a crossing between Israel and the West Bank at the Palestinian town of Tulkarem.
On Monday, Israel released prominent prisoner Tayseer Khaled, a member of the PLO executive committee, while Ahmad Jubarah, 68, the Palestinians' longest-serving prisoner, was to be released later Tuesday, the Israel prisons service said.
Israel promised to free Khaled and Jubarah after talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (search) last week and as a goodwill gesture leading up to the summit with Bush in Jordan on Wednesday.
The summit will mark the official launch of an internationally backed "road map" to Mideast peace, a three-year blueprint for the end of 32 months of violence and the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.
Officials from both sides said Monday that the Israelis and the Palestinians will make separate declarations at the summit.
An Israeli official said Sharon would issue a statement Wednesday accepting the principle that a Palestinian state should be set up. Sharon also has told his Cabinet he would likely make a declaration committing Israel to dismantling settlement outposts set up in violation of Israeli law. Stopping all settlement construction is a key element of the peace plan.
Palestinians consider the outposts on West Bank hilltops as efforts to further expand Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and create new obstacles to a Palestinian state. They say all Israeli settlements are illegal encroachment on their land.
Israeli officials said Monday they did not consider all the outposts illegal and would dismantle only the ones not deemed necessary for Israeli security.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday the settlements would likely be discussed at the summit.
"I think it's well understood that the outposts are not there properly and will have to be removed," Powell said at a news conference in Italy.
Palestinian officials said Abbas would recognize Israel's right to exist side by side with a Palestinian state in his post-summit declaration. They said he also would reiterate that the Palestinian Authority opposes all acts of violence and will work to stop the "military intefadah," a reference to armed militant attacks that have killed more than 350 Israelis in the latest round of violence.
Abbas has been working to secure a cease-fire with militant groups including Hamas, and said earlier this week that he hoped to obtain one prior to the summit.
Meanwhile, clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians erupted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Tuesday.
Israeli troops killed a Palestinian policeman, identified as Nasser Bakr, 54, after attacking a Palestinian police post in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, Palestinian doctors said. The army said soldiers fired at armed Palestinians moving in a prohibited zone about midnight on Monday, but did not know if anyone was hit.
In the West Bank city of Nablus and the nearby Balata refugee camp on Tuesday, seven Palestinians were hospitalized with gunshot and shrapnel wounds inflicted by Israeli troops after dozens of Palestinian youths threw stones and molotov cocktails at the soldiers, Palestinian hospital officials said.
The army sealed off the West Bank town of Ramallah and imposed a curfew on Monday evening, saying it had multiple warnings of terror attacks originating from the town. Israel had begun easing travel restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza on Sunday as part of a pre-summit gesture to the Palestinians.