EREZ CHECKPOINT, GAZA STRIP — * Israel has freed the Palestinian prisoner held longest for fighting its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The release on Oct. 19 was one of the first concrete developments from Israel's accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization, and could precipitate the freeing of thousands more.
Salim Hussein Zrei was released because the PLO had not carried out any attacks since the autonomy accord was signed on Sept. 13, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said in a statement released.
Mr. Zrei, a member of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's moderate Fatah wing, was jailed 23 years ago for trying to infiltrate Israel by sea, the Army statement said.
Palestinians have demanded the release of all of the roughly 12,000 prisoners held in Israeli jails on charges of fighting the occupation, and the return of 1,500 deported for similar reasons. Press reports on Oct. 19 said up to 6,000 prisoners would be released over the coming weeks.
Both sides agree that the release of prisoners is important to the success of the autonomy plan, which is to begin in the Gaza Strip and West Bank city of and Jericho.
The PLO believes the releases will win over reluctant Palestinians to the peace process. The Israeli government worries that mass releases could erode public support. French-Kuwait arms
France and Kuwait signed a ``technical arrangement'' on Oct. 18 aimed at facilitating arms-sales talks that could lead to the first such contract for Paris since the end of the Gulf war in 1991.
Kuwaiti Defense Minister Ali Sabah al-Salem said such projects as France's ground-to-air short-range Mistral missile, a command-and-control system, and warships were under consideration.
France, a member of the Gulf war coalition of nations, hopes to reap rewards for defending the oil-rich Kuwait as it rebuilds its war machine.