BEITUNIYA CHECKPOINT, WEST BANK (CBS/AP)
Israel released 57 Palestinian prisoners at a checkpoint Monday, sending them back to their West Bank homes in a gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of a U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference this fall.
The prisoners arrived at Beitunia, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, after a two-hour journey from the Ketziot prison in southern Israel. The prisoners got off Israeli buses and kissed the ground before boarding a Palestinian bus. An ecstatic crowd of waiting relatives clapped and waved Palestinian flags.
The release of 30 other Palestinian prisoners in the Gaza Strip was delayed until Tuesday morning. Officials gave no explanation for the delay.
But as the West Bank prisoners headed home, Israel said it was moving forward with plans to open a new West Bank police headquarters, despite U.S. concerns that development in the area harms prospects for establishing a viable Palestinian state. The Palestinians accused Israel of undermining new peace efforts.
Israel was freeing a total of 87 prisoners.
Most of the prisoners are from the West Bank, which is controlled by Abbas and his government of moderates. The others are residents of Gaza, which has been ruled by Hamas since June, when they defeated the forces of Abbas' Fatah movement and took control of the coastal territory.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced the prisoner release - the second since July - last month as part of his strategy to support Abbas in his power struggle with Hamas. The prisoners are mostly members of Fatah, along with several who belong to smaller Palestinian factions. None belong to Hamas.
Israel is holding around 11,000 Palestinian prisoners, and their release is a central Palestinian demand. While many of those released Monday were serving time for militant activity, none was convicted in attacks on Israelis.
There is dissatisfaction on both sides, reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger. Many Israelis say it's a reward for terrorism, while Palestinian officials say it is not enough. They want all 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails to be freed.
In Gaza City, a group of Palestinians with relatives in Israeli prisons gathered at the Red Cross offices, holding photographs of their imprisoned loved one.
One mother, Fatima Kaisi, said her 24-year-old son Mohammed is serving a 250-year sentence for his involvement in the radical militant group Islamic Jihad.
"I'm happy for the mothers who are getting their sons back today, but the leaders have to know that there are hundreds of mothers and families still waiting to meet with their loved ones," Kaisi said.
In other developments:
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