JERUSALEM – Israel on Sunday announced the names of 26 long-serving Palestinian prisoners it will release this week under a U.S.-brokered formula to resume Mideast peace talks.
All of the prisoners were convicted in connection with the killings of Israelis. The release, expected to take place Monday, has angered many Israelis.
Under heavy pressure from Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel and the Palestinians resumed peace talks in July. As a precondition, the Palestinians were forced to drop a demand for a halt in Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas they claim for a future state. In exchange, Israel agreed to release 104 of the longest-serving Palestinian prisoners it holds. This week’s release will be the third of four phases.
The Israeli government said the prisoners’ crimes were committed before the beginning of the initial Israeli-Palestinians peace talks in 1993. All have served sentences of between 19 and 28 years.
In the southern Gaza Strip, the family of Rami Barbakh anxiously awaited his return. Barbakh has been imprisoned in Israel for nearly 20 years after being convicted of murdering an Israeli man in 1994.
Israeli relatives of the victims protested the release.
Meir Indor, head of Almagor, a group of families who have lost loved ones in militant attacks, accused the government of selling out the victims.
“Maybe it will make happy the families of the murderers, but it is a sad day to the victims of terror in Israel,” Indor said. “It is a message to murderers: You can kill a Jew and you can be released. You have the umbrella of Kerry.”
Kerry, who has been mediating the talks, is expected back in the region this week to calm rising tensions. In response to the planned release, Israel has said it formally will approve plans to build some 1,400 settlement homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians have appealed to the United States to halt the planned construction. The Palestinians say continued settlement construction on the lands they claim for their future state is a sign of bad faith.