Israel releases 26 Palestinian prisoners

Thursday, January 2, 2014

As part of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority, Israel released on Tuesday early in the morning 26 Palestinian prisoners imprisoned before the 1994 Oslo accords for murder or attempted murder of Israelis.

As a prerequisite for the peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians led by the US, Israel committed in July to free 104 prisoners imprisoned before the Oslo accords. In this wave, the third out of four, Israel freed 26 Palestinian prisoners out of 'Ofer' prison in Israel.

The prisoners, who had been in Israeli prison for 19–28 years, were released to the West Bank, to the Gaza Strip, and to east Jerusalem where enthusiastic crowds waited for them. The prisoners released to the West Bank in Ramallah were welcomed by the president of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, at the presidential residence, and put flowers on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's tomb. Abbas, speaking before thousands of people gathered for the prisoners' release, said, "We will not sign a final peace deal with Israel before all the prisoners are released".

Israel confirmed the release on Saturday, but delayed it until Tuesday for an Israeli court appeal by victims' families to prevent it. The appeal filed by the 'Almagor' organization representing the Israeli victims' families was not accepted. Addressing the issue, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said at the meeting of his party, "Leadership is judged by the ability to implement decisions, difficult as they may be. We were not elected to make easy decisions".

The United States congratulated Israel on the move and a State Department Deputy Spokeswoman, Marie Harf, told Al Jazeera the Secretary of State, John Kerry, expressed "his appreciation for Prime Minister Netanyahu's decision to release the third tranche of prisoners [...] The Israeli government's commitment to release Palestinian prisoners helped enable the start [...] and the continuation of the final status negotiations, and we believe this is a positive step forward in the overall process". Kerry himself is expected to arrive during this week to Israel to promote the peace talks.