Israel to free first group of Palestinian prisoners ahead of peace talks
By Allyn Fisher-Ilan (Reuters)JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel on Monday published a list of 26 Palestinian prisoners set to go free within days, some after spending more than two decades behind bars, in the first stage of a deal that led to a resumption of U.S.-backed peace talks last month.
August 12, 2013, 2:24 pm TWN
The decision was made late Sunday by a panel of three cabinet ministers headed by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and security and legal personnel.
Families of Israelis victimized by the inmates' attacks have 48 hours to appeal their planned release to the high court. Based on past decisions, the court was unlikely to intervene.
The prisoners were the first group of 104 Israel has already decided in principle to free as part of an agreement reached after intensive shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to renew talks for Palestinian statehood. They reconvened on July 30.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had demanded the release of these men, many held since before a 1993 interim peace deal with Israel, as a condition for agreeing to resume talks that broke down in 2010 in a dispute over Jewish settlement building.
Washington has set a target of nine months for the talks. A second round of negotiations was expected to convene on Wednesday in Israel, and later in the occupied West Bank.
Fourteen of the prisoners going free will be deported or sent to the Gaza Strip, and 12 to the occupied West Bank. Two of the prisoners would have served out their sentences in another six months, and six others over the next three years.
Some of the families of Israeli victims of attacks for which these prisoners were convicted were bitterly opposed to their release, joined by far-right cabinet ministers who voted against the deal last month.
Most of the inmates on the list, as published by Israel Prisons Authority, were jailed between 1985 and 1994. They were convicted of murder, attempted murder or acting as an accomplice in a lethal assault.
Housing Minister Uri Ariel of the far-right Jewish Home party told reporters in anticipation of Sunday's decision that he was "against freeing terrorists. It goes against our security interests".
Israel has a number of times freed Palestinian prisoners before they served out their time, but mostly in swaps for Israeli soldiers or their remains held by the Jewish state's enemies.