Israel frees terrorist prisoners, Palestinians unimpressed

Monday, August 25, 2008 |  Ryan Jones

In a move that won the harsh criticism of coalition and opposition leaders alike, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday carried out a decision to set free from Israeli prisons another 198 Palestinian terrorists without demanding anything in return.

Late Sunday night Israel's Supreme Court rejected the final appeal against the prisoner release, clearing the way for Olmert to lay his latest "goodwill gesture" before Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The court blasted the Olmert government for its hastiness in carrying out the release, which Olmert wanted to coincide with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's arrival on Monday, but insisted it had no right to interfere with a political and diplomatic decision.

The judges also took a swipe at the prime minister for causing more pain to Israeli victims of terror, and for failing to balance its diplomatic offerings by providing some form of comfort to its own citizens.

Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu was less forgiving, calling Olmert's gesture a "national humiliation," and taking special offense at the freeing of two Palestinians who had directly murdered Israelis Jews, men with "blood on their hands."

Even cabinet minister Shaul Mofaz, one of the leading candidates to take over for Olmert when the ruling Kadima Party holds its primary elections next month, strongly opposed the government's decision.

Mofaz said Israel should not be releasing terrorists from the consequences of their actions, and certainly not when the Palestinians are still holding Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit hostage in Gaza.

Mofaz asserted that the prisoner release was supported and even formulated by his Kadima leadership rival, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Meanwhile, Abbas gave the freed terrorists a hero's welcome in Ramallah, but insisted that the Palestinians would never make peace with Israel until all jailed Palestinian security prisoners were released.

Israel is currently holding thousands of Palestinian Arabs who have directed, carried out or tried to carry out brutal acts of terrorist violence against Israeli Jews over the past few decades.

Most telling was Abbas' insistence that Israel include in its next release Ahmad Saadat, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Saadat is serving a life sentence for ordering the 2001 assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.

Despite his rejection of the notion that those who have committed murderous crimes against Israel should face justice, Abbas continues to be held aloft by Israel's left-wing leaders and the governments of Europe and the United States as the best hope for peace.

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