The Hamas-run half of the Palestinian Authority, currently ruling Gaza, released 12 prisoners from the rival Fatah terrorist organization on Monday evening in what was termed a "goodwill gesture" by local Arab leaders.
P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the decision by Hamas to release some Fatah members, but added that "dozens of political prisoners and senior Fatah leaders are behind bars [in Hamas jails]."
The released prisoners include independent political leaders and members of human rights organizations. Still detained are the former governor of Gaza City and of Khan Yunis. A human rights activist in Gaza said that Hamas has agreed to free more Fatah prisoners to encourage Abbas to free Hamas supporters who are in jail in Ramallah.
While Abbas has not said he would release any more jailed Hamas members, in August Israel released three Hamas legislators. The released men were among 45 Hamas representatives Israel apprehended in 2006, immediately after IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was abducted in a terrorist attack on a military base adjacent to Gaza. Israeli officials said the recent releases were not related to ongoing negotiations for Shalit's release, but rather coincidental conclusions of the jail terms imposed on the three Hamas members.
In July, Abbas warned Israeli defense officials that he would dismantle the P.A. entirely if Israel released the Hamas legislators. P.A. sources close to Fatah said that Abbas feared a resurgent Hamas presence in Judea and Samaria. However, just one month prior, Abbas himself ordered the release of three Hamas prisoners held in Fatah-run jails, as part of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas. The released prisoners were being held in connection with attempted attacks on Jewish targets, rather than for crimes associated with the internecine P.A. power struggle.
Regarding 198 terrorists released last month from Israeli jails, in a goodwill gesture intended to bolster Fatah's standing in the P.A., Abbas commented, "[The release] of this group fills us with joy, but we will not be satisfied until all prisoners are released.... There will be no peace without the release of all the prisoners."