Israel begins releasing 26 Palestinian prisoners

A woman holds a framed portrait of her relative, Palestinian prisoner Jamil Nabi Annatsheh, ahead of his release from an Israeli prison, in the West Bank city of Hebron August 13, 2013.

Israel began on Tuesday night releasing 26 Palestinian prisoners ahead of renewed Middle East peace talks.

Al Arabiya live coverage showed buses carrying the prisoners from the Ayalon Prison in central Israel.

The prisoners are headed for Gaza and West Bank where they will be received with celebrations by fellow Palestinians.

Israelis and Palestinians will resume peace negotiations in Jerusalem on Wednesday after a five-year freeze.

The talks broke down three years ago in a dispute over settlement building in territory Palestinians seek for a state.

Israel’s announcement on Sunday of plans to expand settlements drew Palestinian anger but no formal threat to withdraw from negotiations, whose resumption was driven by intensive shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, according to Reuters.

The United States is seeking to broker a “two-state solution “in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a Palestinian state created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

The United States, European Union and United Nations on Monday condemned Israel’s announcement of construction plans for about 2,000 new settler homes.

Most world powers regard all the settlements as illegal. During a visit to Colombia, Kerry called on the Palestinians “not to react adversely “to Israel’s latest plans, Reuters reported.

Hamas reaction

Israel dismissed such criticism, saying the settlement plans were intended for West Bank areas it wanted to keep under any peace deal with the Palestinians.

The 26 prisoners due to be released were among a total of104 that Israel has agreed to free in four stages.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has vowed to seek freedom for all Palestinian prisoners, is set to gain by the prisoner releases, a highly charged issue in a society where thousands are held in Israeli custody.

“I think this is an important accomplishment, one that gives hope to the Palestinian people, “ Palestinian Minister of Prisoners Issa Qaraqe told Reuters.

Abbas’s Islamist rival, Hamas, had limited praise for the prisoner release, although it also reiterated its objections to negotiating with Israel, whose existence it rejects.

Some 500,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem amid 2.5 million Palestinians. Israel withdrew in 2005from the Gaza Strip, now governed by Hamas Islamists.

Few expect the latest negotiations to resolve issues that have defied solution for decades, such as borders, settlements, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. The United States has said it seeks a peace deal within nine months.

Netanyahu appears to have decided he can ill afford to alienate the United States at the moment given the turmoil in the region, and led his pro-settlement government into talks.

Neighboring Egypt and Syria are in upheaval and Israel remains deeply concerned Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb, something Tehran denies. Israel is widely believed to be the only power in the Middle East with nuclear weapons.

(Source / 13.08.2013)

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