Occupied West Bank – Twenty-six Palestinian prisoners received a hero’s welcome after being freed from Israeli jails, some after more than two decades behind bars. In Israel, however, the release was met with anger.
It was the third of four stages to free 104 inmates that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed to let go when Middle East peace talks were renewed in July. The prisoners had been convicted of killing Israeli civilians or soldiers and spent between 19 and 28 years in prison.
The 26 inmates were jailed before the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which formally launched the Middle East peace process.
They include 18 men from the West Bank, three Gazans, and five men from East Jerusalem.
At his headquarters in Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waited to meet the men. Speaking before thousands, he pledged to continue pressing for the release of long-serving and ill prisoners.
“We will not sign a final peace deal with Israel before all the prisoners are released,” he said.
The US welcomed the move with Secretary of State John Kerry expressing “his appreciation for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to release the third tranche of prisoners,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
The release was expected to be followed by announcements of new construction plans for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.