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  Tuesday, January 26, 2021
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Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas will meet in Jerusalem Monday
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will meet in Jerusalem Monday to discuss practical steps to end the standoff with Islamist extremists in the Palestinian territories, local media reported. One of the key aspects of the meeting is expected to be a release of Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture by Israel intended to strengthen the position of Abbas's Fatah party, which recently lost power to the radical Hamas movement in Gaza following violent street clashes. A list of some 250 prisoners to be released was drawn up Sunday in keeping with a promise made at a meeting between the two leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh three weeks ago, and includes only security detainees who do not have "blood on their hands." In addition to the release, which involves mostly Fatah men and a smaller contingent from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Israel will call off the hunt for 178 wanted Fatah gunmen and will allow DFLP leader Nayef Hawatmeh to travel to Ramallah Wednesday for a meeting with the Palestinian Liberation Organization's (PLO) central committee. Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel and the European Union, won the first free and fair legislative elections to be held in the Palestinian territories in January 2006, defeating Fatah and setting the stage for the subsequent standoff. A shaky coalition government established in March 2006 was dissolved in June 2007, when Abbas dismissed the PNA, and the street fighting that followed left Hamas in charge of the Gaza Strip. Ironically, it was Israel that initially encouraged the creation of Hamas in the 1980s, seen as a useful counterweight to then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat. However, its radical Islamist agenda quickly metamorphosed into a potent political and social movement, gaining widespread support both for its uncompromising stance on Israel as well as its many humanitarian and social welfare programs in the Palestinian territories.
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