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Release of prisoners starts slowly

By BEN LYNFIELD

JERUSALEM, Oct. 10 -- The release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in the occupied West Bank began slowly Tuesday, with an estimated 50 prisoners being freed from Jneid Prison in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, Israel Radio reported. Official army sources reported only 'prisoners have been released' but declined to specify numbers or give details.

The prisoners are being freed as a follow up to last month's agreement on expansion of autonomy in the West Bank. All of the released prisoners had been jailed for criminal offenses, the radio report said, adding another 450 such prisoners and 500 security-related prisoners were due to be freed during the day. But Palestinian officials said the release could be held up because of the refusal of Israel to pardon four Palestinian women prisoners convicted of murder. This could cause other prisoners to refuse to be released until the women are also released, they said. 'I cannot tell them what to do, but if I was in their place I would not have agreed to a release,' said Hisham Abdel-Razek, who handles security issues for the Palestinian Authority. 'We do not have any message, but I personally would not have agreed to a release.' Meanwhile, Israeli military administrators said they would hand over their offices in Salfit, in the northern West Bank, to Palestinian Authority officials late Tuesday in an apparent harbinger of the spread of self-rule. The army spokesman said a military closure imposed on the Gaza Strip nearly three weeks ago and the West Bank two weeks ago would remain in force until next Tuesday 'for security reasons.' Israel Radio said officials were concerned about the possibility of suicide bombings by the radical Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements.

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