Israel has begun to free Hamas leaders who were rounded up by security forces following the abduction of IDF Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit two years ago.

On Thursday, Jerusalem freed the mayor of Shechem, who has been held in administrative detention for two years.

Also freed was a local businessman who is connected with a company that Israeli officials say has been linked to terrorists. The businessman was arrested three weeks ago in a roundup of several storeowners who helped fund Hamas.

A day earlier in Hevron, Israel released former Hamas minister Issa Jabari, whose family placed 7,000 shekels ($1,970) as bail for his release. He was one of dozens of Hamas officials arrested in a roundup after IDF Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped two years ago.

At the beginning of the week, a judge ordered the government to free Omar Abdel Razak, a former Hamas minister. "The judge believed it was enough, the period that he served in prison," said a second former Hamas minister.

The government has denied that releasing the leaders is connected with a deal to free Shalit.

More Terrorists to Be Freed by Month’s End

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni agreed Wednesday in a meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas to free more than a hundred PA terrorists by the end of this month.

According to Olmert spokesman Mark Regev, the decision was made “to strengthen the negotiation process.” 

Regev denied the planned release was an attempt to divert attention from Abbas's demand that Israel free terrorist Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms in prison for helping to direct deadly attacks against Israelis.

Barghouti is considered the most popular figure in the PA and has consistently run far ahead of others in polls.

Although Regev declined to say how many terrorists Israel had decided to free, PA negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters after the meeting that 150 prisoners are involved in the offer.

Likud Knesset Member Gidon Saar charged that the government is irresponsible for offering to free terrorists without any stated benefits in return.

Miki Goldwasser to Olmert: ‘Come Back to Your Senses’

The mother of kidnapped and murdered IDF reservist Ehud Goldwasser advised Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the Israeli Hebrew website Ynet Thursday to "come back to your senses" and stop making goodwill gestures to the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Miki Goldwasser wrote the day after Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni offered to free an unspecified number of Arab terrorists.

"A gesture for what?" she wrote. "I was crying after I heard it. The grave of my son is still fresh. The pain is terrible. Yet despite this, I cannot but think all the time about Aviva Shalit, Gilad’s mother, who needs to cope with oh-so-humanitarian Israeli gestures while her own son is held in cellars of horror."

Goldwasser said she wants talks with Hamas to advance, but did not state what Israel should offer to secure the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

The bodies of her own son and that of his fellow reservist, Eldad Regev, were returned last month, two years after they were kidnapped and murdered by Hizbullah terrorists. Israel freed five Lebanese terrorists, including child killer Samir Kuntar and four Hizbullah guerillas in return for the bodies.