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Hamas leader freed in mass prisoner release

Aug. 4, 2011 5:09 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 7, 2011 4:39 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israel moved Thursday to free 770 Israeli and Palestinian detainees, including a senior leader of Hamas, prison and Palestinian Authority officials said.

Israel prisons spokeswoman Sivan Weizman said the prisoners, among them 200 Palestinians, had almost completed their terms and were released due to overcrowding.

Hassan Yousef, a West Bank leader of the Hamas movement, was released despite having six weeks remaining of a six-year term for "membership of a terrorist organization."

After his release, Yousef told Ma’an the prisoners carried one message: The need to implement a unity deal and carry out the terms of the Cairo agreement in order to confront the occupation.

Yousef said the situation in the prisons is difficult due to recent restrictions.

“There are 40 detainees in solitary confinement, most of them are Hamas,” he said in an interview with Ma'an.

The Hamas leader stated that he does not support the September bid for Palestinian statehood at the UN.

"We don’t believe that this step is useful and won’t add anything except a few more UN resolutions," Yousef told Ma'an.

Rather, "we need practical resolutions that end the occupation," he said.

Negotiations over a prisoner swap deal with Israel for captured soldier Gilad Shalit only stopped one month ago, Yousef added, noting that he also participated in swap talks and it is Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who is delaying the process.

He also hopes that the current demonstrations in Israel over housing prices can help to stop the Israeli government’s racist policies against Palestinians.

The Head of Gaza's Prison Ministry Riyad Al-Ashqar said a large number of prisoners were released Thursday because Israel was delaying the release of dozens of detainees who had completed their sentences.

Among them are more than 70 prisoners from the Negev jail alone, including 16 prisoners from Gaza. Mahmoud Al-Sherif was detained in April and scheduled for release in June, for example.

The ministry noted that all the prisoners had completed their sentences, so the mass release should not be interpreted as a sign that Hamas and Israel reached a deal to exchange a soldier captured in 2006.

In Ramallah, Deputy Prisoners Minister Ziad Abu Ain said the Palestinians were expecting "around 70 prisoners who have finished their terms of Israeli jails" but had no additional details.

The Center for Defense of Liberties and Civil Rights reported on Thursday that a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine was also freed as part of the prisoner release.

Sufyan Abed Al-Halim Barakat, 40, had spent nine years in Israeli detention after being arrested for affiliation with the armed wing of the DFLP.

According to figures released by Israeli rights group B'tselem in April, there are 5,380 Palestinians being held in Israeli jails, 217 of whom were under 18.

AFP contributed to this report.
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