Palestinian officials demand to release 20 prisoners from Israeli jails

The Palestinians are demanding Israel release 20 key prisoners, including a well-known West Bank uprising leader and a Lebanese militant who has been in jail since 1979, a Palestinian official said Tuesday.

Israel holds more than 7,000 Palestinian prisoners, and the Palestinians have long demanded their release. The prisoner issue was one of the main reasons a summit planned for Tuesday between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was delayed, the AP reports.

But Palestinian officials said they were encouraged by progress being made on the issue, and believe Israel will loosen its tough restrictions for releasing prisoners. While Israel has agreed to large-scale prisoner releases in the past, it has refused to free those directly involved in attacking Israelis.

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, said the list includes Marwan Barghouti, a prominent West Bank uprising leader, and Samir Kantar, a Lebanese guerrilla imprisoned for killing three Israelis. Barghouti was snatched by Israeli troops in April 2002 and sentenced to five life terms after being convicted in an Israeli court in connection with deadly Palestinian attacks. A.M.

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