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Release prisoners first: Hamas

Gaza, July 4 (Reuters): Palestinian militants urged Israel today to release all Palestinian prisoners or risk the collapse of a ceasefire that is vital to the success of a US-backed peace plan.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas was due to discuss the prisoner issue, and the fragile five-day-old ceasefire announced by militant groups, at a meeting with the Islamic Jihad movement later today in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli government is expected to consider releasing hundreds of prisoners on Sunday, Israeli political sources said. The key question is whether the list of those to be freed is long enough and whether it includes names that satisfy the Palestinians. Islamic Jihad and Hamas dismissed the release of 53 prisoners yesterday as cosmetic.

Both groups, spearheading a 33-month-old uprising for statehood, say Israel must free all the thousands of Palestinians it holds. “We have made it very clear that all prisoners must be released. Otherwise, it will be a serious violation to the truce,” a top Hamas official said.

Islamic Jihad leader Mohammed al-Hindi said: “We are looking for the release of all the prisoners and the top priority are those serving long sentences.”

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