12/19/2011, 00.00
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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Israel frees 550 prisoners, goes ahead with a thousand of new housing units for settlers

Israel freed 550 Palestinian prisoners based on a deal brokered to release Private Gilad Shalit. The mass release occurred last night. Permits for about a thousand housing units are issued for East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Tel Aviv (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Israel let go a second group of Palestinian prisoners in exchange of Gilad Shalit, who was freed two months ago. A total of 550 prisoners were released; most went to the West Bank, some to Gaza and a few to Jordan. Israel released a total of 1,027 male and female Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit (see Joshua Lapide, “Shalit is freed: delivered to the Egyptians. Release of Palestinians begins,” in AsiaNews, 18 October 2011).

Some 2,000 people gathered in Ramallah, where, along with Fatah leaders, they greeted the prisoners who arrived aboard dozens of buses. Prior to the reception, the Palestinian prisoners visited Yasser Arafat's tomb. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was not present because he is visiting Turkey.

During the rally in Ramallah, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, the Palestinian Authority's secretary-general, praised the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah.

Most of the Palestinian prisoners were jailed for throwing stones and Molotov cocktails—about 400 had already completed two-thirds of their sentences.

Meanwhile, Israel issued permits for the construction of a thousand new housing units in parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank formerly under Jordanian control before the Six Day War of 1967.

In Israel, the decision was condemned by Peace Now as a new obstacle on resumption of negotiations.

For Palestinians, any new housing project (involving the East Jerusalem suburb of Har Homa and the West Bank colonies of Ghivat Zeev and Beitar Illit, which should be completed in 24 months) is an attempt to retaliate against Palestine’s admission to UNESCO.

At the time, the government of Benyamin Netanyahu had pledged to strengthen the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem and Gush Etzion (Bethlehem, West Bank).

Israel’s Housing Minister Ariel Atias (a member of the ultra-orthodox Shas party) today denied any connection between the new projections and Palestine’s admission in UNESCO.

He said that urban growth in West Jerusalem had reached its limits, and that new construction would take place in East Jerusalem, which is already home to 250,000 people.
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