Israel to release Palestinian prisoners

Decision to free 26 inmates comes after Israel announced new settler homes, ahead of peace talks later this week.

Israelis hold pictures of their family members who were killed by Palestinians during a protest against the release of Palestinian prisoners, in Jerusalem
Bereaved Israeli families protested Israel's decision to release Palestinian prisoners [Reuters]

Israel will release 26 Palestinian prisoners ahead of renewed peace talks set for later this week, an official statement said.

Following the government decision late on Sunday, the Israel Prisons Service published the names of the 26 selected to be freed ahead of the talks.

The detailed list, published shortly after the announcement, includes the prisoners’ names, felonies, date of arrest as well as the names of their victims.

Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton, reporting from Jerusalem, said that the Israeli security agency said most of them were “low risk” prisinors.

The longest serving prosoner has written a letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas saying they “didn’t want to be used as a bargaining chip”, the Al Jazeera correspondent said.

“You should not agree with the releases to give way in any way in these peace talks,” the letter said.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a panel had decided upon the identity of the prisoners to be released within the next two days, the first of 104 long-term Palestinian prisoners to be freed in four stages, depending on progress in the talks.

Peace talks

Most prisoners were arrested for “murder”, with five being “accomplices to murder” and one being guilty of “abduction and killing”.

The victims of three of the prisoners had Palestinian names, implying they had killed men suspected of collaborating with Israel.

All prisoners had been arrested in the years leading up to 1994 except one who was arrested in 2001.

“Following the government decision to renew peace talks with the Palestinians and appoint a ministerial committee to free prisoners during negotiations… the committee approved the release of 26 prisoners,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office read.

Fourteen of the prisoners will be transferred to the Gaza Strip and the other 12 to the occupied West Bank.

“Eight of the prisoners on the list are set to be freed in the upcoming three years, two of them in the next six months,” said the statement. “The release of the prisoners will take place at least 48 hours after publication of the list.”

The three ministers constituting the committee – Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet security agency – stressed that “if one of those released returned to hostile activities against Israel, he will be returned to complete his sentence”, the statement said.

Settlements bids

Bereaved Israeli families were expected to appeal to the High Court of Justice against the impending release.

Deputy Palestinian prisoners minister Ziad Abu Ain told AFP news agency they “welcomed the release of any Palestinian prisoner from Israeli jails”, but said they hoped the first to be set free would be the older ones.

Israel invites bids for settlement homes

“We hope that Israel will commit to releasing the rest of the prisoners, and ask and hope the Palestinian side will have a partner to choose the conditions and names of those set to be released.”

Abu Ain noted that of the 26 named on Monday, six were from rival groups to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah – two were members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), two belonged to Hamas, another two were from the Islamic Jihad, while the remaining 20 were of the Fatah movement.

The decision to release prisoners came as Israel announced it was inviting bids to build nearly 1,200 new homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem.

Mohammed Shtayeh, a Palestinian negotiator, said that the new settlement plans showed Israel was “not serious” in its efforts to negotiate peace.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were set to resume talks in Jerusalem on Wednesday on ending their long-standing conflict.

They resumed direct negotiations in Washington last month ending a three-year hiatus after painstaking US mediation.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies