Israel To Delay Palestinian Prisoner Release

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JERUSALEM – Israeli officials said Monday they would delay the release of 250 Palestinian prisoners until next week because of a request by Palestinian officials.

They said the Palestinian officials had asked for the delay because President Mahmoud Abbas is out of the country and wants to be back in the West Bank to greet the freed prisoners. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement.

Abbas is on a Muslim pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Rafiq Husseini, a top Abbas aide, said Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, had not sought any delay, and that Israeli officials had not contacted his office over the delay.

"I can assure you Abu Mazen doesn't want to see these people imprisoned for one single day," he said.

Abbas planned stops in Russia and the U.S. before returning to the West Bank, he said.

The officials said the release, originally set for Tuesday, would now take place on Dec. 15.

The Israeli government had approved the release as a goodwill gesture to coincide with the Muslim feast of the sacrifice, which began Monday.

The prisoner issue is extremely sensitive for the Palestinians. Israel holds more than 9,000 Palestinian prisoners, and virtually every Palestinian family has a relative, friend or neighbor who has spent time behind bars. Abbas has demanded the freedom of all prisoners.