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Thursday, February 4, 1999 Published at 00:51 GMT

World: Middle East

Israeli killers' sentences reduced

Ami Popper on a vacation from prison in 1997

The Israeli Government has cut the prison sentences of four Israelis jailed for murdering Palestinians and one convicted murderer is to be released.

One of the prisioners, Ami Popper, killed seven Palestinians in an shooting spree in 1990. His sentence has been reduced from seven life sentences to 40 years in prison.

Another prisoner, Nehemiah Mishbaum, who threw a grenade into an Arab butchers' market, killing one, will now walk free after 11 years.

Israel's justice minister told Israeli radio that the review of their sentences was justified because the government had released a number of Palestinian prisoners over recent years as a result of the peace process.

'Double standards'

Palestinian human rights activists have voiced their opposition to the policy saying Israel's position is that it will not release any Palestinian prisoners who "have Jewish blood on their hands".

The human rights activists say Palestinians who murder Israelis are charged in military courts and handed down severe sentences.

By contrast, they say, Israelis guilty of murdering Palestinians often claim self-defence and when they are charged, usually sit before regular courts which deal out lighter sentences.

The issue of prisoners was central to the recent stalling of the Wye peace accord. The Israelis had agreed to release 750 Palestinian prisoners, but the Palestinians complained that many of those who were actually released were common criminals.

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