Israel begins release of 26 Palestinian prisoners
Celebrations planned in West Bank and Gaza where detainees are viewed as heroes
Right-wing Israeli activists are stopped by police from approaching Israeli Prisons Authority vans carrying Palestinian prisoners due for release to help underpin peace talks tonight. The vans were leaving Ayalon prison, near Lod, on their way to the crossing between Israel and Gaza. Photograph: Amir Cohen/Reuters
Israel has begun releasing 26 Palestinian prisoners, most held for deadly attacks, ahead of renewed Middle East negotiations.
The Israeli prison service said buses carrying the inmates had left a jail in central Israel. They were being released late at night to prevent a spectacle.
Celebrations are planned in the West Bank and Gaza where the prisoners are viewed as heroes.
Their release is seen as very painful for Israelis who view them as terrorists. Twenty-one of the prisoners were convicted of killings, while others were involved in attempted murder or kidnapping.
Israelis and Palestinians are to launch talks in Jerusalem tomorrow following a preparatory round two weeks ago in Washington. The prisoner release is part of an agreement to restart the talks after a five-year freeze.
Relatives of some of the Israeli victims protested angrily over the release, while Palestinian pro-prisoner activists said it fell short of expectations.
Israel is to free 104 of the longest-held Palestinian prisoners in coming months, most of them detained for killing Israelis or suspected Palestinian collaborators. They are to be freed in four stages over the course of the negotiations, which are envisioned to go on for about nine months.
Half the prisoners on the list had no given release date, meaning they were serving full life terms, while others would have been released in a few years without the special deal. Most have already served about 20 years, with the longest-held having been arrested in 1985.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians have spent time in Israeli prisons on security charges since Israel’s capture of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in 1967. They are jailed on charges ranging from throwing rocks to killing civilians in bombing and shooting attacks.