Palestinian president's confidant to be released from Israeli prison

Israel will release from prison this week a confidant of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Palestinian newspaper reported Tuesday.

Abdel Rahim Malouh, a leader of a small, radical group, will be included in Israel's release of 250 Palestinian prisoners that is slated for this Friday, Abbas told Malouh's wife in a telephone call, the Al Ayyam newspaper reported Tuesday.

Malouh, as a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee, is considered very close to Abbas and could serve as a mediator between him and the Islamic Hamas. Abbas has refused to talk to Hamas since its forces took over the Gaza Strip in mid-June, leaving Abbas in control of the West Bank.

Malouh is second in command of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and was jailed by Israel in 2003 for involvement in attacks on Jewish settlers. The group was also responsible for the killing of Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001. Malouh is at least 60 years old and reportedly sick.

Israel has in recent days tried to bolster Abbas in facing Hamas, releasing millions of dollars in tax revenues it owes the Palestinians, agreeing to release Palestinian prisoners and taking former militants affiliated with Abbas' Fatah movement off its most-wanted list.