Jerusalem, July 23, 2003

Statement from Ministerial Committee on Release of Palestinian Prisoners
(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

The Ministerial Committee on the Release of Palestinian Prisoners chaired by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and with the participation of Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Public Security Minister Tzahi Hanegbi, Justice Minister Joseph Lapid, Welfare Minister Zevulon Orlev and Minister Gideon Ezra held its first meeting this morning (Wednesday), July 23, 2003.

ISA Director Avi Dichter and his aides presented recommendations regarding the release of Palestinian prisoners. Justice Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovitz briefed the committee on the work of the special committee that he chairs that is checking legal issues vis-a-vis those prisoners whose release has been recommended.

At the beginning of the meeting, Prime Minister Sharon said that the release of Palestinian prisoners is an especially sensitive one for Israel and that he had made this clear to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas at their last meeting. The prime minister also noted that his Palestinian counterpart attributes great importance to the issue and that progress on the subject will strengthen his position in the eyes of the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Sharon reminded members of the committee that he had told the cabinet on July 6, 2003 that, "If terrorism continues and there is no genuine Palestinian effort to fight and eliminate it the releases will stop. The releases will be carried out in tightly supervised, small, and measured doses in proportion to proven Palestinian actions in the security sphere."

On this matter the prime minister added that recently there has been significant Palestinian activity in preventing terrorism and incitement, as well as a considerable reduction in the number of warnings of terrorist attacks. In addition, the Palestinians are working toward maintaining quiet and are taking action against those who are trying to destroy it.

The prime minister noted that, while there has been a change of approach, no efforts have been made to dismantle the terrorist organizations or their infrastructure. Following deliberations, the ministerial committee decided to recommend that those Palestinians on the list presented before it today should be released. The committee also decided that the cases of prisoners about whom doubts have arisen regarding their release would be reevaluated by the cabinet.

The committee asked Justice Ministry Director-General Abramovitz’s committee to coordinate the necessary operations in order to release the prisoners. The committee also agreed that the names of those who are to be released would be made public.

The ministerial committee will convene again on Monday, August 4, 2003, to reevaluate the criteria according to which Palestinian prisoners are released.