Update: Many media still misreporting Road Map conditions

July 22, 2003

This is an update to the dispatch of July 11, 2003 titled "Prisoner releases are not a part of the road map"

CONTENTS

1. "Sharon, Abbas Meet on Prisoners Before Bush Talks (Reuters, July 21, 2003)
2. "Palestinians-Security Chief" (AP, July 21, 2003)
3. AFP: "Abbas: Free all prisoners for peace to prevail"



[Note by Tom Gross]

Many Western media are continuing to report (wrongly) that prisoner releases are a condition of the Road Map. As was frequently the case during the "Oslo years," lazy (or biased) journalists have not bothered to read the text of the Israeli-Palestinian agreements about which they report. Instead they have simply swallowed lies from Palestinian Authority spokespersons about what Israel and the Palestinians have mutually signed up to, and then reported these Palestinian lies as if they were fact. Reporters have thus left readers with the impression that Israel has not fulfilled the agreements it has entered into and is responsible for delaying peace initiatives.

Following recent criticism, however, some media (notably Associated Press and the New York Times) have started to correctly report that Palestinian demands for captured terrorists to be released is not a condition of the road map. As of yesterday, others (notably Reuters and the Washington Post) have not.

THE NEW YORK TIMES

The New York Times previously reported (correspondent Greg Myre): "The release of Palestinian prisoners is just one of many demands placed on both sides under the Mideast peace plan, known as the road map."

The New York Times has since reported (correspondent James Bennet) "Israel is not obligated by the peace plan to release any prisoners, a move that is as noxious to Israelis as it is appealing to Palestinians. Yet in what Israel called an effort to support Mr. Abbas, it has begun releasing some prisoners, and on Sunday the government said it would free about 300 more, of more than 5,500 it is believed to hold."

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

Some newspapers seem very confused. In the Los Angeles Times, one correspondent in Jerusalem, Laura King reported that Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas "had been scheduled to meet today to discuss ongoing steps under the peace plan known as the 'road map,' including the release of some Palestinian prisoners and Israeli troop pullbacks from more cities in the West Bank,"

Meanwhile another correspondent in the Los Angeles Times, Megan Stack, wrote the same day: "Prisoner release isn't mentioned in the peace plan, but Palestinians have said they can't go forward unless Israel frees thousands of detainees."

THE BBC / NPR

The BBC has implied that prisoner releases are part of the Road Map. The BBC reported: "Israeli officials say members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad are not included among those to be freed, a decision which could jeopardize ... the entire peace process."

NPR, the BBC radio's equivalent in the US, has also left listeners with the impression that releasing prisoners is a condition of the Road Map (NPR correspondent Linda Gradstein)

THE WASHINGTON POST

Yesterday, the Washington Post continued to mislead its readers (which, of course, include many politicians in Washington). "Mideast Parties Now Look to U.S. Sharon-Abbas Meeting Stalls Over 'Road Map'" By John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, Monday, July 21, 2003; Page A18.

In the second paragraph, Anderson writes: "The peace plan, known as the road map, has stalled over several key issues -- notably ... Palestinian demands for ... the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. [Full article text below]

JULY 21, 2003 - REUTERS, AP, AFP

In order to show the contrasting way the media are reporting on this, I attach pieces from yesterday, Monday, July 21, 2003, from the world's three largest news agencies (China and India aside). Many other journalists rely on these agencies without checking the facts for themselves.

SUMMARIES

1. "Sharon, Abbas Meet on Prisoners Before Bush Talks (July 21, 2003, By Dan Williams, JERUSALEM (Reuters)". The piece begins: "Israel agreed to free hundreds more Palestinian prisoners Sunday, disappointing Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas's hopes for a full amnesty but keeping a U.S.-backed peace 'road map' in motion."

[This Reuters article has been repeated in various forms in thousands of print and online publications around the world in the last 24 hours. It suggests from the beginning that prisoner releases have something to do with the Road Map. In fact, the Road Map obligates the parties to crack down on Palestinian terrorists, not release them.

For example, the report by Nazir Majally that appeared in two Saudi papers yesterday, Asharq Al-Awsat and Arab News, clearly borrows from Reuters. It begins: "OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, 21 July 2003 - Israel agreed to free hundreds more Palestinian prisoners yesterday, disappointing Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas' hopes for a full amnesty but keeping a US-backed peace road map in motion." [Full text below]

2. By contrast AP are now reporting this point correctly: "Palestinians-Security Chief, 21.07.2003 By LARA SUKHTIAN, Associated Press Writer, JERUSALEM (AP) -- The release of Palestinians in Israeli jails is the main priority of talks with Israel on a U.S.-backed peace plan, the Palestinian security chief said Sunday... The release of prisoners is not spelled out as an Israeli obligation in the so-called 'road map' peace plan, but Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan said the releases are "at the top of our agenda."

3. The world's third biggest news agency, AFP (Agence France Presse) implies prisoner releases are a condition of the Road Map. The AFP report yesterday July 21, 2003, "Abbas: Free all prisoners for peace to prevail" (copied below in full from The Times of Oman and the Jordan Times yesterday, but also used in hundreds of other newspapers around the world) it is stated: "...Abbas was referring to the US-backed international roadmap for peace which outlines steps both sides must take toward creating by 2005 a Palestinian state that lives peacefully alongside Israel. Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, refused to budge on the release of prisoners. "We want the release of all the prisoners no matter what their affiliations are or their geographic regions," Abbas said."

-- Tom Gross

 



FULL ARTICLES

SHARON, ABBAS MEET ON PRISONERS BEFORE BUSH TALKS

Sharon, Abbas Meet on Prisoners Before Bush Talks
By Dan Williams
July 21, 2003

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel agreed to free hundreds more Palestinian prisoners Sunday, disappointing Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas's hopes for a full amnesty but keeping a U.S.-backed peace "road map" in motion.

Abbas met Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his Jerusalem residence and was promised that several hundred prisoners would be released, Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr told reporters, adding: "This is positive progress."

An Israeli government source confirmed the number of candidates for release but said the list would be finalized after Sharon and Abbas hold separate meetings with President Bush in Washington later this month.

The road map aims to end a 33-month-old Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the promise of statehood by 2005. Abbas has said the release of all 6,000 Palestinian prisoners is vital to boosting grassroots support for the plan. Sharon commended Abbas for coaxing a three-month truce from Palestinian militants in late June. "The prime minister told his counterpart that Israel cannot ignore the fact that recently terrorism and incitement have diminished significantly," Sharon's office said.

But hours later, the army said an Islamic Jihad militant blew himself up accidentally while laying a mine for an Israeli patrol east of the West Bank city of Jenin. Islamic Jihad denied this, saying troops shot the man dead as he fled arrest.

In another incident which jarred the June 29 cease-fire, an assailant thought to be Palestinian knifed and seriously wounded an Israeli pedestrian in Jerusalem, police said.

ISRAEL PUSHES FOR PALESTINIAN CRACKDOWN

Israel reoccupied much of the West Bank after suicide bombings last year. This month forces withdrew from the city of Bethlehem as well as areas of Gaza as mandated by the road map. The security handovers there have been largely successful.

Sharon's office said he told Abbas further pullbacks were contingent on the Palestinians dismantling militant groups, another requirement of the plan. But although Abbas has vowed to punish anyone who violates the truce, he has avoided a crackdown for fear of civil war.

Militants in turn say a resumption of attacks could hinge on the prisoner issue. "If they (Israel) release some of the prisoners, it's not satisfactory," said Ismail Abu-Shanab, a leader of the Islamic group Hamas.

With the list of prisoners for release not yet final, Israeli officials said earlier Sharon might relax criteria to enable members of Hamas and kindred group Islamic Jihad who were not involved in anti-Israeli attacks to go free.

Israel has ruled out releasing Palestinians "with blood on their hands" -- involved in attacks on Israelis. Some government sources said these add up to around half of the 6,000 prisoners, suggesting more releases could be in store. Sunday's meeting was Sharon's fourth with Abbas since the Palestinian prime minister assumed the post in April as part of sweeping reforms demanded by the United States. The move sidelined Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, whom Israel accuses of fomenting violence. He denies it.

During their meeting, Abbas asked Sharon to lift restrictions on Arafat as well as easing travel conditions for Palestinians in general. Sharon's office said Israel would weigh removing some checkpoints, but made no mention of Arafat.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah and Wael al-Ahmad in Jenin)

 

PALESTINIANS-SECURITY CHIEF

Palestinians-Security Chief
By Lara Sukhtian
Associated Press Writer
July 21, 2003

JERUSALEM (AP) -- The release of Palestinians in Israeli jails is the main priority of talks with Israel on a U.S.-backed peace plan, the Palestinian security chief said Sunday.

However, there appeared to be little progress on that front Sunday when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas met in Jerusalem.

The Palestinians want Israel to release many more jailed Palestinians than the several hundred it offered to free two weeks ago. Israel has resisted demands for a mass release of its estimated 7,700 Palestinian prisoners.

The release of prisoners is not spelled out as an Israeli obligation in the so-called "road map" peace plan, but Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan said the releases are "at the top of our agenda."

"It is the issue that is of great importance to everyone now," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview before Sunday's summit.

Sharon's office said afterward that he had pledged to consider Palestinian requests for additional prisoner releases.

Dahlan said many of the jailed Palestinians pose no security risk.

"The Israelis right now can release 3,000 Palestinian prisoners without any serious security issues," he said.

Israel has hinted it might be willing to release some members of Islamic groups in a prisoner exchange but only if they have not been involved in attacks on Israelis.

On another issue, Dahlan said Israeli operations in pursuit of militants have crippled Palestinian security forces, making it difficult for them to directly confront the militants.

"We are in the process of rebuilding the Palestinian Authority and rebuilding its security apparatus that the occupation destroyed in the last two-and-a-half years," he said.

Israel is pushing the Palestinians to disarm militant groups responsible for suicide bombings and shootings that have killed hundreds of Israelis since the latest violence began in September 2000.

The Palestinian Authority has resisted cracking down on militant groups for fear of sparking a civil war. But Palestinian officials have repeatedly said they would work to confiscate illegal weapons.

On Saturday, Dahlan's office said the government had started "a large-scale campaign" to bring law and order to the Gaza Strip. The statement gave no specifics. On Sunday, Yasser Arafat's office reissued a 1998 decree outlawing any group that advocates change by force.

The main militant groups declared a temporary cease-fire June 29, but progress has stalled on the peace plan, which calls for an immediate end to violence and the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

Dahlan said that if there are concrete achievements for Palestinians, it would be "in the interest of everyone" to keep the truce alive.

 

MIDEAST PARTIES NOW LOOK TO U.S.

Mideast Parties Now Look to U.S.
Sharon-Abbas Meeting Stalls Over 'Road Map'
By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
July 21, 2003

JERUSALEM, July 20 -- After a series of tentative opening steps in a new Middle East peace process, Israelis and Palestinians are refusing to make the bold leaps necessary to keep the process going and are looking to the Bush administration to referee their disputes in meetings in Washington this month, officials from both sides said.

The peace plan, known as the road map, has stalled over several key issues that have thwarted other recent efforts to resolve the 34-month-long Palestinian uprising -- notably Israel's demand for guaranteed security and the dismantling of Palestinian militant groups; and Palestinian demands for Israeli troop pullbacks in the West Bank, a freeze on the expansion of Jewish settlements and the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

No significant progress was made on any of the issues during a meeting today between the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. A Palestinian source who attended the two-hour meeting said it was "a difficult one that included shouting on both sides."

While Palestinian security forces have arrested a few militants and confiscated a few weapons since President Bush officially launched the road map at a summit with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Aqaba, Jordan, on June 4, they have yet to stage a concerted crackdown on radical groups such as Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement, and Islamic Jihad, as both Israel and the United States are demanding. Instead, they are relying on a tenuous three-month cease-fire by Palestinian militant groups to keep the peace. And while Israel has released some Palestinian prisoners and pulled back troops from the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem, the first major prisoner release announced two weeks ago still has not occurred and most of the West Bank remains under tight Israeli control. While Israel has dismantled eight settlement outposts since June 4, 11 new ones have gone up.

"There is a lot of concern that this is very fragile and could come apart at any time, with the next bombing," said a Western diplomat who asked not to be identified.

"The Palestinians haven't done anything to disarm and dismantle groups like Hamas, and there's a danger that if the inertia continues and something bad were to happen, the whole thing could collapse. And what's Israel done? They've released a few prisoners, and as for settlements -- there's been no movement on that," the diplomat said.

Those will be some of the main issues when Abbas visits Washington on July 25 and Sharon arrives for talks four days later, Israeli and Palestinian officials said. Both leaders hope that the Bush administration -- and the president himself -- will use the visits to force concessions from the other side.

"We want the Americans to be in a position of doing some muscle flexing on Abu Mazen and say, 'It's time for you to cash in a few of your chips,' " a senior Israeli official said. "That's why we think Washington called in both sides, because they understand time is very valuable, and the Palestinians can't keep stringing it out and playing for more time. Before you know it, the three months of cease-fire will be behind us, Hamas will be fresh, the Palestinians won't have lifted a finger, and in two seconds the whole thing is going to go up in flames again."

But according to a senior Palestinian official, "there's a link between the lack of Palestinian freedom and the lack of Israeli security, and we are trying to demonstrate that the U.S. has to pressure both sides, that it's a give-and-take process."

"Israeli land confiscations are up," the official said. A wall that Israel is building around the West Bank "is still going up, there's talk of settlement expansion, the number of outposts is going up, not down -- there's been no action on the part of Israel to show they are going to end the occupation, and that's why the road map is off-track," he added.

Meanwhile, more than six weeks after the launch of the road map, the United States still has not sent a monitoring team to the region to supervise either Israeli or Palestinian compliance -- a central element of the peace plan. But a special envoy for Bush, John Wolf, has been meeting regularly with both sides, and "the political pressure can be felt, I assure you," a senior Israeli military said.

In their meeting today, Palestinians said, Sharon and Abbas agreed that Israeli and Palestinian officials would jointly decide which of the estimated 5,800 to 8,000 Palestinian prisoners would be released. Palestinians, saying that only 330 had been convicted of violent crimes, are demanding that almost all of the remainder be released. Israel claims that many have ties to Palestinian terrorist groups and will not be freed, although it recently softened its position and said that some members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad might be released. So far, Israel has released about 135 prisoners. None of the 350 identified for release two weeks ago has been set free, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.

Palestinian officials say that the unilateral, three-month cease-fire that Palestinian military groups declared June 29 , at the urging of Abbas's government, is one of the most significant anti-violence measures of the entire uprising. Officials are negotiating with the groups to extend the cease-fire indefinitely, a proposal the militants have so far rejected. And Israeli officials have given the Palestinians high marks for reducing the level of anti-Israeli invective in the streets and the Palestinian media.

In the meantime, regular Palestinian security forces in the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem -- the only places they control -- are enforcing a law prohibiting the public display of weapons by anyone unaffiliated with a legitimate police force. In Bethlehem, police said they confiscated one rocket launcher and three bombs. In Gaza, precise figures were not available, but Palestinian security forces there have had a number of clashes with militants and have arrested several and confiscated their weapons. But Israeli officials claim that some of the militants were subsequently released and say the Palestinians have not destroyed any of the factories where militants make their rockets.

One of the most hotly disputed issues is how long the Palestinians should be given to take significant steps to crack down on militant groups, given that their security forces were decimated by Israeli attacks. Senior Israeli officials initially said they would give the Palestinians a three-week "grace period" to reconstitute their forces and start taking tough actions against terrorism, a deadline that has now expired.

"Six months would be a very, very optimistic figure, rather than the three weeks Israel was expecting," said an aide to Palestinian Security Minister Mohammed Dahlan.

"We think they should take measures right now," a senior Israeli military official responded. "And as soon as we see that they are beginning to take action, we'll be more than happy to reward them and pull out of most of the Palestinian cities. We're almost eager to do it, but we must see certain actions on the ground. But, in a way, they are scared to confront even low-level militants."

 

"NO BREAKTHROUGH ON PALESTINIAN PRISONERS"

No breakthrough on Palestinian prisoners at Abbas-Sharon meeting
The Jordan Times
July 21, 2003

www.jordantimes.com/Mon/news/news2.htm

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP) - Heated talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas Sunday ended without a commitment from Israel to release more Palestinian prisoners in a meeting dominated by the continued siege of Yasser Arafat.

Instead the two sides agreed to form a joint committee which would consider the numbers of Palestinian prisoners who should be released from Israeli jails, Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr said.

"The most positive thing that we agreed about was that the number of prisoners which must be released will be discussed in a joint commitee," the minister told reporters after briefing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the talks which Amr also attended.

It is understood that Palestinian Prisoners Minister Hisham Abdul Razeq and Avi Dichter, the head of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence agency, will sit on the committee.

"It was a useful meeting and I hope that we will see good results in the coming period," Amr said.

However, another source close to Abbas said that the talks had been stormy, dominated by the plight of the veteran Palestinian leader Arafat who has been effectively confined to his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah by Israeli forces for the last 19 months.

"It was a difficult meeting. At many points they screamed at each other," he said.

"The main topic was the siege on Arafat. Abu Mazen (Abbas' nom-de-guerre) and his team told Sharon and the Israelis that any talk about moving ahead the situation on the ground without lifting the siege would be useless."

Israel had agreed to "study seriously" an end to the siege of Arafat, he added.

The same source said the two sides had clashed on the prisoners issue.

"The Israelis were talking about lists and categories and the Palestinians refused that and said any discussion on prisoner releases should be (among) the two sides," he said.

Israel has so far refused to countenance the release of more than 350 of the estimated 6,000 Palestinians in its jails.

There had been expectations that Sharon would seek to bolster Abbas' position by allowing the release of a small number of activists from the Islamic Jihad and Hamas which are currently observing a truce, which comes with a raft of conditions including the release of all detainees.

The two sides also discussed Palestinian demands for further Israeli troop withdrawals from the West Bank after pullbacks in the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem in recent weeks as well as a removal of army checkpoints.

"We discussed about the checkpoints and cities and we declared that we are ready to control any city which Israel withdraws from," said Amr.

Palestinian Security Chief Mohammad Dahlan and Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz are expected to discuss the withdrawals after Dahlan's return from a trip to Washington with Abbas who is to meet US President George W. Bush on Friday.

Mofaz told a weekly Cabinet meeting ahead of the Abbas-Sharon talks that there had been a downturn in violence since a security agreement between the two sides three weeks ago which led to the pullback of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem.

That agreement was followed shortly afterwards by the truce announcement.

"He (Mofaz) pointed out that on the ground, the downward trend in the number of attacks and warnings is continuing. Incitement in the Palestinian media has similarly declined," said a Cabinet communique.

"Following Israeli measures to ease restrictions, there has been a significant improvement in the atmosphere on the Palestinian street in the areas in which responsibility has been transferred to the Palestinians."

The Abbas-Sharon meeting marked the first phase in a flurry of activity which will take the two leaders to Washington in the coming days.

Before arriving in the US on Wednesday, Abbas will also hold talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and His Majesty King Abdullah in Jordan about the US-backed "roadmap" for peace.

Abbas is spearheading Palestinian negotiations after Israel and the US refused to deal with Arafat who has been accused by Sharon of trying to undermine his prime minister and the peace process.

The veteran leader issued a decree Sunday banning any incitement to violence, one of the demands of the roadmap.

 

ABBAS: FREE ALL PRISONERS FOR PEACE TO PREVAIL

Abbas: Free all prisoners for peace to prevail
The Times of Oman

www.timesofoman.com/newsdetails.asp?newsid=36754

CAIRO (AFP) - A three-week-old Palestinian truce is holding but Israel must free all Palestinian prisoners from its jails if it wants "peace to prevail", Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas said here yesterday.

"What's important for us is the truce that we agreed with Palestinian factions and that everybody respects it," Abbas said after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in preparation for his first visit to the White House later in the week.

At the end of June, Egypt helped broker a three-month Palestinian truce, which in turn has led to an Israeli withdrawal from some of the Palestinian territory it had reoccupied since violence erupted almost three years ago.

"An atmosphere of security and stability prevails in our territories," Abbas said at a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher.

When reporters asked about Israel's refusal to release more prisoners, withdraw more troops and scrap settlements, Abbas replied: "If we don't have any progress on those issues, achieving stability will be difficult."

He added: "That's why if the Israeli government wants peace to prevail, it has to tackle all those issues, and to respect the roadmap which involves all those issues - whether prisoners, settlements, withdrawals..."

He was referring to the US-backed international roadmap for peace which outlines steps both sides must take toward creating by 2005 a Palestinian state that lives peacefully alongside Israel.

Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, refused to budge on the release of prisoners.

"We want the release of all the prisoners no matter what their affiliations are or their geographic regions," Abbas said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pledged yesterday to remove "illegal" settler outposts in the West Bank to meet a demand made in a US-backed peace plan that also calls for a freeze on all settlement activity.

In a statement to the Israeli parliament, which met during summer recess to discuss pressing issues, Sharon acknowledged intense international pressure to dismantle the sparsely inhabited hilltop outposts.

"Leaders around the world, including our best friends, have protested their existence to me and to ministers," said Sharon. "I have said before, to the cabinet and at (the June 4 peace summit in) Aqaba, that illegal outposts will be dismantled." - AFP

 

'HUNDREDS TO BE FREED BY ISRAEL'

'Hundreds to Be Freed by Israel'
Nazir Majally -- Asharq Al-Awsat

www.arabnews.com/?page=4žion=0&article=29137&d=21&m=7&y=2003

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, 21 July 2003 - Israel agreed to free hundreds more Palestinian prisoners yesterday, disappointing Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas' hopes for a full amnesty but keeping a US-backed peace road map in motion.

Abbas met Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his Jerusalem residence and was promised that several hundred prisoners would be released, Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr told reporters, adding: "This is positive progress".

An Israeli government source confirmed the number of candidates for release but said the list would be finalized after Sharon and Abbas hold separate meetings with US President George W. Bush in Washington later this month. The reformist Palestinian premier is also under pressure to satisfy militant groups from whom he coaxed a three-month truce on June 29. His efforts were not lost on ex-general Sharon.

"The prime minister told his counterpart that Israel cannot ignore the fact that recently (Palestinian) terrorism and incitement have diminished significantly," Sharon's office said.

But it added that Sharon had insisted Abbas dismantle militant groups before further Israeli withdrawals from reoccupied West Bank cities. Israel quit the West Bank city of Bethlehem and areas of Gaza this month.

"If they (Israel) release some of the prisoners, it's not satisfactory," said Ismail Abu-Shanab, a leader of Hamas.

With the list of prisoners for release not yet final, Israeli officials said earlier Sharon might relax criteria to enable members of Hamas and kindred group Islamic Jihad who were not involved in anti-Israeli attacks to go free.

Israel has ruled out releasing Palestinians "with blood on their hands" - involved in attacks on Israelis. Some government sources said these add up to around half of the 6,000 prisoners, suggesting more releases could be in store.

Yesterday's meeting was Sharon's fourth with Abbas since the Palestinian prime minister assumed the post in April as part of sweeping reforms demanded by the United States. The move sidelined Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, whom Israel accuses of fomenting violence. He denies it.

During their meeting, Abbas asked Sharon to lift restrictions on Arafat as well as easing travel conditions for Palestinians in general. Sharon's office said Israel would weigh removing some checkpoints, but made no mention of Arafat.

Arafat also issued a decree yesterday banning any incitement to violence, one of the demands of the road map.

- With input from Agencies


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.