Two senior members of Fatah's al-Aqsa Brigades terror group were released early Friday morning, just hours after being apprehended during IDF counter-terror operations in Shechem on Thursday.

Reportedly, the arrest of Ibrahim and Jamal Ismail drew criticism from the higher echelons of the Fatah leadership, who conveyed their displeasure to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his negotiating team. The terrorists were included in an amnesty deal reached by Olmert with Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas, but violated the terms by taking part in the fighting in Shechem.

Israel began withdrawing its troops from Shechem on Friday after a four-day counter-terror operation which netted 49 arrests, including members of a cell which planned a suicide bombing attack for Friday.

Fatah officials argued that the men were active in kidnapping Hamas members following Fatah’s defeat in Gaza and that their arrest would jeopardize the entire amnesty deal, whereby Al-Aksa Brigades terrorists are supposed to hand in their arms and be given jobs with the Palestinian Authority.

More Amnesties, ‘Partner’ Found

PA reports claimed Thursday that Israel agreed to add 41 more wanted Fatah terrorists to the list of 300 that the IDF will stop pursuing. The move is being dubbed a “goodwill gesture.”

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday night that “according to all the signs, we have a partner” for diplomatic negotiations – referring to Abbas, who he praised as a “moderate.”  He said he planned to continue releasing terrorist prisoners as a “gesture” to Abbas, and would propose another prisoner release next week. 

National Union Knesset Member Aryeh Eldad responded, saying that both Olmert and Abbas were “bankrupt” leaders.

"The moment that, G-d forbid, Judea and Samaria are turned over to the new partner, Hamas will take over the area," Eldad warned. "Abbas indeed is a suitable partner for Prime Minister Olmert. Abbas could not succeed in keeping Hamas from taking over Gaza and apparently is the desirable partner for the first Israel leader to fail in war."

Closure For Holiday

The IDF has clamped the usual full closure on Judea, Samaria and Gaza prior to the one-day Yom Kippur holiday that begins Friday night, but says it may be left in place until further notice. Military spokesmen said that the closure will remain in effect until "a renewed security assessment after the holiday ends" Saturday night.