The Israeli government has decided to release 26 Palestinian prisoners in a second stage of a deal brokered by the US in July in exchange for the resumption of peace talks.
“The release of 26 prisoners has been validated this evening,” said a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
It said all the prisoners had committed their offences before the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords and had served 19-28 years in prison, with 21 hailing from the occupied West Bank and the remainder from the Gaza Strip.
A list of the prisoners was posted on the website of the Israeli prison authority after families of Israelis killed in attacks blamed on the prisoners had been notified, the statement said. “The release of the prisoners will take place at least 48 hours after the publication of the list,” it added.
Palestinians said they did not know who was on the list and its initial publication on Sunday was in Hebrew text only.
Netanyahu had said he would free 104 Palestinians in stages following the start of negotiations on July 30, and released the first group of 26 prisoners in August.
An Israeli official said last week that the release of prisoners was linked to continued construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories according to “understandings” reached with the Palestinians.
But the Palestinians adamantly denied that there was any connection between the two issues and have repeatedly condemned the continuing construction in the settlements, saying it threatens the peace talks.
Israeli media said Netanyahu would likely announce additional settlement construction on Tuesday or Wednesday, to coincide with the release of the prisoners.
In August, Israel approved the construction of more than 2,000 settlement units in east Jerusalem and the West Bank just days before a round of bilateral talks, leading the Palestinians to warn the fledgling process was in danger of
Direct peace talks aimed at resolving the decades-old conflict resumed in July after a hiatus of nearly three years.