Hamas releases 17 Fatah members as goodwill gesture

HAMAS released 17 jailed members of the rival Fatah faction yesterday, describing the men for the first time as political prisoners and saying it set them free as a goodwill gesture before Palestinian unity talks.

“In order to provide a healthy atmosphere for the dialogue, we decided to free all political prisoners in our custody in Gaza,” said Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh during a graduation ceremony for police recruits.

He put the number of those prisoners at “nearly 20”. Fatah, which lost control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas in fighting in June 2007, has said dozens of its members have been jailed since the Islamist group’s takeover of the territory.

Several hours after Haniyeh spoke, Reuters correspondents saw 17 Fatah men walking out of prison.

“With the release of the 17 political prisoners, we declare an end to political detention in Gaza,” said Taher al-Nono, spokesman for the Hamas government in the territory.

Egypt has invited 13 Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah, to reconciliation talks in Cairo on November 9. Haniyeh said he was “cautiously optimistic” about prospects for success.

“We urge Fatah to reciprocate and free Hamas members jailed there,” said Nono.

Meanwhile, militants from the Gaza Strip fired a rocket into southern Israel yesterday in violation of a ceasefire and Israel temporarily closed its borders with the Hamas-controlled territory in response, officials said.

The rocket landed near the city of Sderot but there were no casualties or damage, police said.

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