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Israeli army officers, right, look on as Palestinian prisoners kiss goodbye fellow prisoners that are staying behind, as they leave the Ketziot military prison in southern Israel

Israel Frees More Than 330 Palestinian Prisoners

By VOA News

Israel has released more than 330 Palestinian prisoners in a move aimed at advancing the "road map" peace plan. The prisoners were released at five checkpoints between Israel and Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip Wednesday. The men flashed victory signs and kissed the ground as relatives waving Palestinian flags greeted them.

Among those released Wednesday were members of Islamic Jihad and Hamas, two groups that have vowed to destroy Israel, but none of these prisoners had been held for carrying out violent attacks.

Israel said the release was also aimed at shoring up support for Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. But Palestinian officials say the move is inadequate and called on Israel to free all of the more than 6,000 Palestinians it holds. Another 99 criminal detainees are expected to be freed in the coming days.

Palestinian officials said the dispute led to the cancellation of Wednesday's planned talks between Abbas and his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon. A spokesman for Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat said Israel should also withdraw from Palestinian cities and stop building a security fence to separate Israel from the West Bank. The security fence being built in the West Bank is an irritant for the Palestinians who call it a new Berlin Wall.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops arrested more than a dozen members of a Palestinian security force in the West Bank town of Jericho.

Court Says No To Jewish Entry To Temple Mount

By & Ha'aretz

The High Court of Justice has turned down a request by the Temple Mount Faithful organization seeking permission to visit the Temple Mount Thursday, Tisha B'Av.

Organization leaders Wednesday reached an agreement with police for a mutually acceptable alternate location for the annual cornerstone ceremony for the Third Temple.

The police grudgingly agreed to a Court-requested compromise, and the ceremony will begin in Jerusalem's Givat HaMivtar neighborhood, where many cars will accompany a truck carrying two large stones to downtown Jerusalem. The stones symbolize the foundation stones of the Third Holy Temple. Each of them weighs 6.5 tons and is made of diamond-cut marble; metal-cut stones are not permitted for Temple use. From downtown, the stones will be brought without fanfare to the Temple Mount gate near the Western Wall plaza for the conclusion of the ceremony.

Gershon Solomon, leader of the group, spoke excitedly of the historic nature of the decision: "From a historic and national perspective, this begins a new chapter in our struggle for the Temple Mount, and actually for Jerusalem and the entire Land of Israel. Foundation stones for the Holy Temple in downtown Jerusalem! In a convoy and with a parade! This has tremendous significance, it is a real revolution - the crown jewel of the revival of the People of Israel in the Land of Israel."

The Temple Mount Loyalists had asked, as they do every year, for permission to ascend to the Temple Mount on Tisha B'Av, in order to commemorate the day on which the Temples were destroyed. Although the Court gave their petition greater consideration than it did in previous years, the end result was the same: No.

Likud Knesset members Inbal Gavrieli and Yehiel Hazan said Wednesday that they are determined to break through police lines to go to the Temple Mount on Thursday, despite warnings from Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Police Chief Shlomo Aharonishki that a visit to the site could lead to severe rioting and bloodshed. MK Aryeh Eldad of the National Union Party said he would decide Thursday if he will join the two MKs.

Thursday, Tisha B'Av, is the traditional Jewish day of mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Hazan, who heads the Yesha lobby in the Knesset - and is under suspicion as one of the MKs who voted twice during the budget bill - said he did not get any specific warning that his visit to the Temple Mount could cause a specific danger, so he sees no reason to stay off the site.

Hazan said it was a matter of principle. "Every Jew is allowed to go to every holy site and there is no reason why on Tisha B'Av I can't fulfill my right as a Jew to go to the holiest site." Hazan is not religious.

Nor is Gavrieli, who said, "I am determined to visit the Temple Mount on Tisha B'Av. The minister spoke to me and tried to persuade me to postpone the visit. On the other hand I have been receiving a lot of encouragement from others." She said she saw no evidence indicating it would be dangerous to visit the site and that the real reason for the objections to their visit is political. "Every Jew has the right to go to the Temple Mount, and as a result of my parliamentary immunity, nobody can stop me," she said.

Eldad said he would join the two other MKs "only if I see there's a real chance to get on to the mount. I don't want to make a demonstration, but to fulfill my right to pray on the mount." He said the "security argument is unacceptable to me. Obviously the attempt to stop us is political and not for security reasons. If the problem were security, it could be solved by sending 1,000 troops to safeguard the MKs."

One of Eldad's faction leaders, Tourism Minister Benny Elon, who is religious, said he supports those who want to visit the site, but that as a religious person he stays off the Temple Mount for halakhic reasons. Almost all rabbis argue that Jews should refrain from visiting the site lest a person accidentally tread on the site that was once the Holy of Holies.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin called on the MKs to obey the requests of the police. "Jews should not be prohibited from visiting the Temple Mount and every Jew should be allowed to fulfill their right to visit the Temple Mount. But going to the mount should not be a demonstration and we cannot ignore the requests by the minister and the chief of police that MKs don't go to the mount."

MKs from the left as well as Shinui ministers attacked the MKs' decision to visit the Temple Mount at this time. Interior Minister Avraham Poraz said, "It would be a provocation that should not be allowed." He said that then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the site was a mistake, "and although it wasn't the reason for the intifada, the MKs who want to go to the Temple Mount apparently believe that with their provocation they can foil the political process they object to."

National Infrastructure Minister Yosef Paritzky said, "Apparently there are some MKs who are sick and tired of the quiet and they want to reignite the intifada."

MK Avshalom Vilan of Meretz said the Likud MKs "are trying to blow up the hudna ... they are pyromaniacs who are trying to make political profit by lighting a new fire in the region. Sharon started the second intifada and his pupils Gavrieli et al will start the third if the government doesn't stop them."

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