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Israel releases Palestinian prisoners, but doubts linger over peace moves

Rearming itself in Gaza, Hamas has made a 'generational leap' in its military capability, a senior Israeli source says.

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Israel released just over 250 Palestinian prisoners on Friday, leading to scenes of jubilation on the West Bank and pledges of support to Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, the Associated Press reports.

The release was meant to bolster Abbas in his power struggle with the Islamic militant Hamas, which took control of Gaza by force last month.

Several thousand chanting, clapping Palestinians greeted the prisoners as their buses rolled into Abbas' headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah....
"This is the beginning," said Abbas. "Efforts must continue. Our work must continue until every prisoner returns to his home."
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the prisoner release is part of a package of goodwill gestures that is to give new momentum to stalled peace efforts.

But a number of reports express skepticism that the two key players in the conflict, as well as the United States, are ready or willing to push for the compromises that could bring peace a step closer. Agence France-Presse reports on an interview that Israel's Haaretz newspaper carried with James Wolfensohn, the former special envoy for the so-called Middle East Quartet of the EU, US, Russia and the World Bank, who said the US was a particular obstacle to his peace efforts.

"There was never a desire on the part of the Americans to give up control of the negotiations, and I would doubt that in the eyes of ... the State Department team, I was ever anything but a nuisance," Haaretz quoted him as saying.
Haaretz said Mr. Wolfensohn believed Israeli officials also regarded him as a nuisance, particularly after former prime minister Ariel Sharon disappeared from public life following a stroke in January 2006.
But he expressed hope that former British premier Tony Blair, his successor, would have a "greater mandate" than the one he enjoyed.

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