Israel names 26 Palestinian prisoners for release before peace talks - and announces plans for more than 1,000 West Bank homes
Monday 12 August 2013
Israel has named 26 Palestinian prisoners they plan to free this week under a deal enabling US-backed peace talks to resume.
The 26 prisoners are the first of a total of 104 Israel has initially decided to release as part of an agreement reached following intensive shuttle diplomacy by US Secretary of State John Kerry to renew talks for Palestinian statehood.
A list of the prisoners, along with the names of the people they were convicted of killing, was published by Israel's Prisons Service as part of a process in which opponents of their release have 48 hours to appeal to the High Court. Based on past decisions, the court is widely expected not to intervene.
Fourteen of the prisoners going free will be deported or sent to the Gaza Strip, and 12 to the West Bank. Two of the prisoners would have served out their sentences in another six months, and six others over the next three years.
But Palestinians said peace talks had been undermined by Israel's announcement on Sunday that it plans to build 1,187 new dwellings for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and parts of the territory it annexed to Jerusalem after the 1967 Middle East war.
"The international community must stand with this peace process and must stand shoulder to shoulder with us and hold Israel accountable for its continuing settlement activities," Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters.
"Those who do these things are determined to undermine the peace negotiations, are determined to force people like us to leave the negotiating table," Erekat said.
Most world powers regard all the settlements as illegal and Palestinians say the enclaves could deny them a viable and contiguous state.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dismissed the criticism, saying the new construction would take place in areas Israel intends to keep in any future peace agreement.
"This in no way changes the final map of peace. It changes nothing," Regev said.
Some Israelis reacted with anger to the release of the long-term Palestinian prisoners, scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday.
“These are not political prisoners, they are terrorists and murderers who will be returning home to a hero's welcome,” Gila Molcho told the BBC. Her brother Ian Feinberg was murdered by gunmen in 1993 while working in a European Union-funded aid office in Gaza.
Some 500,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem amid 2.5 million Palestinians. Israel withdrew in 2005 from the Gaza Strip, which is now governed by Hamas Islamists opposed to permanent co-existence with the Jewish state.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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