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Israel presents goodwill gestures to Palestinians ahead of Muslim festival
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09:04, December 08, 2008

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Israel on Sunday presented a series of goodwill gestures to the Palestinians ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, local daily The Jerusalem Post reported on its website.

While meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Jerusalem, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Fayyad of Israel's decision to ease restrictions in the West Bank ahead of the upcoming festival.

According to the decision, Palestinian men over the age of 40 and married women of all ages will be allowed to enter Israel to visit their families.

Israeli Arabs will also be permitted to enter Area A of the West Bank, a zone usually off limits to all Israelis.

Barak also promised to allow Palestinian men over the age of 45to travel to Jerusalem for prayer services on the Temple Mount.

In addition, restrictions on West Bank activities will also be eased, with hours extended at checkpoints to allow longer periods of travel on main roads.

Israel viewed the current Palestinian National Authority (PNA) operations in the West Bank towns of Hebron and Jenin positively, Barak told Fayyad, adding that Israel is also considering allowing a similar deployment of PNA security forces in Bethlehem ahead of Christmas.

Addressing the situation in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, Barak said Israel would not reopen the border crossings into Gaza until the rocket attacks ended.

Israel will continue to permit the flow of minimal supplies needed in Gaza to avoid a humanitarian crisis, added Barak.

Earlier on Sunday, Israel decided to release 230 prisoners on Tuesday as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to mark the Eid al-Adha.

According to a statement issued by Israeli Prime Minister's Office, the ministerial committee overseeing the release of Palestinian prisoners made the decision following a cabinet approval of the release of 250 Palestinian prisoners last Sunday.

Some 20 names were removed from the original list following objections by several ministers, who were opposed to releasing prisoners into Gaza.

The 230 prisoners to be released are all Fatah-affiliated and are "without blood on their hands," according to the ministerial committee.

According to official figures, Israel currently holds more than11,000 Palestinian prisoners in its jails.


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