900 Palestinian Prisoners to Be Freed

Israeli Cabinet ministers on Thursday approved the release of 900 Palestinian prisoners and a withdrawal from the West Bank town of Jericho (search), officials said, in a pair of gestures ahead of a regional summit next week.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's (search) security Cabinet, a senior group of ministers, approved the measures during a four-hour meeting.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (search) will host Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search) at Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik. Jordan's King Abdullah will also attend. The two sides hope to declare a joint cease-fire ending four years of violence.

A joint declaration of a cessation of violence is one of the first requirements in the internationally backed "road map" peace plan, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

"We are not talking about peace now, and not about the road map but rather about phases that come before implementation of the road map," Sharon was quoted as saying at Thursday's meeting by participants.

The ministers approved the release of 500 Palestinian prisoners immediately after next Tuesday's summit, an official in the meeting said on condition of anonymity. An additional 400 prisoners will be freed within three months.

In addition, the ministers decided the army would pull out of the West Bank town of Jericho in the coming days, the first of five cities to be vacated by the army in the coming weeks.

The ministers also approved an earlier decision by the army chief to halt the targeted killings of wanted Palestinian fugitive and agreed to form a joint Israeli-Palestinian committee to decide what to do with Palestinian fugitives.

The ministers also approved construction of a seaport in Gaza, which would provide a boost to the Palestinian economy. The economy of the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been hit hard during four years of fighting, in which Israeli security measures have constrained trade.