Page last updated at 13:05 GMT, Monday, 15 December 2008

Crowds greet freed Palestinians


Jubliant scenes as the prisoners are released at Beitunya

Jubilant crowds in the West Bank have welcomed home busloads of Palestinians set free from Israeli jails.

Israel said the release of more than 220 Palestinians was a goodwill gesture towards Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Most of those released are linked to Mr Abbas's Fatah faction, which is dominant in the West Bank.

There was a similar release of 200 Palestinians in August, but about 10,000 still remain in Israeli jails.

Of these more than 550 are in administrative detention - held without charge or trial.

More than 40 members of the Palestinian parliament, most representing the militant movement Hamas, are among the prisoners.

Palestinian prisoners minister Ashraf al-Ajrami said that although he welcomed the release of prisoners, Israel was acting unilaterally and ignoring Palestinian demands.

"The Israelis decided to release these prisoners without any negotiation or any connection with the Palestinian side.

"We demanded to release the Palestinians who served many years in the Israeli jails and also the children, the women and the political leaders," Mr Ajrami said.

BBC Jerusalem correspondent Tim Franks says the event will do little to alter the lack of clear progress in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, or to heal the toxic rift between the Palestinians, with Fatah in the West Bank, and the Islamist Hamas group in charge of Gaza.

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