JERUSALEM, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) -- Israel freed 26 Palestinian prisoners early Tuesday, as part of a U.S.-brokered agreement to resume direct peace talks between the two sides.
The prisoners -- 18 men from the West Bank, three from the Gaza Strip and five others from east Jerusalem -- were freed from Ofer Prison near Ramallah, said Israeli Prison Service spokesperson Sivan Weizmann.
They are the third group of the 104 Palestinian inmates that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed to letting go in four batches in July, when the peace talks were renewed after three-year suspension.
The list of the 26 prisoners, compiled by a committee of ministers, was uploaded onto the website of the Israeli Prison Service to allow interested parties to appeal the verdict in 48 hours until the release.
A total of nearly 5,000 Palestinians are currently imprisoned by Israel since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967.
Releasing the prisoners who have carried out militant attacks that killed Israelis, triggered public anger in Israel, especially among the bereaved families whose loved ones died in those attacks.
Several dozen of bereaved families protested at noon on Monday at the entrance to Jerusalem. In the evening, the families protested near the prime minister's office, and then moved to east Jerusalem.
Monday evening, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed by Almagor, an organization of bereaved families, which opposed the release of the five Israeli-Arabs living in east Jerusalem.
Israel considers east Jerusalem to be part of its capital and has previously balked at allowing the Palestinians to negotiate on behalf of prisoners living in what it considers to be Israeli territory.
Meanwhile, the release also met loud opposition from inside the Israeli government, especially from members of the nationalistic, far-right Jewish House members.
Netanyahu is reportedly set to announce the construction of more than 1,000 housing units in the settlements following the release. The move goes against the request by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is trying to boost the dwindling talks and fears further construction would bring the talks to a complete halt.
Observers have speculated that Netanyahu's motivation is probably to quell the public anger the release had sparked and please his right-wing voters and hawkish cabinet members.
The announcement of settlement construction, along with Israeli ministers' pushing to draft a bill to annex the Jordan Valley, a section of the West Bank near the Israeli-Jordanian border, could be a death blow to the talks. The Palestinians have vehemently opposed Israeli military presence in the future Palestinian state territories, saying it would undermine the Palestinian sovereignty.
Israel begins release of 26 Palestinian prisoners
JERUSALEM, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) -- Israel started the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners on Monday evening, as it released eight of them heading to the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem from the Ofer prison in the West Bank, as part of the on-going peace talks.
Three of the eight prisoners are making their ways to the Hamas- ruled Gaza Strip via the Erez Crossing, while the other five are returning to their homes in east Jerusalem, spokesperson of Israeli Prison Service Sivan Weizmann confirmed to Xinhua. Full story