Israel to free 26 Palestinian prisoners ahead of new peace talks

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Israel approved late on Sunday the release of 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners over the next few days ahead of a new round of peace talks set for later this week.

Three senior members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet and a panel of security officials agreed to the list of names, which they said would be published early on Monday.

“Following the government decision to renew peace talks with the Palestinians and appoint a ministerial committee to free prisoners during negotiations... the committee approved the release of 26 prisoners,” the statement.

“On the list approved are 14 prisoners who will be transferred to Gaza and 12 from Judaea and Samaria,” the biblical term for the West Bank, the statement continued.

“Eight of the prisoners on the list were set to be freed in the upcoming three years, two of them in the next six months,” said the statement. “The release of the prisoners will take place at least 48 hours after publishing the list.”

The three ministers on the panel -- Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet security agency -- stressed that “if one of those released returned to hostile activities against Israel, he will be returned to complete his sentence.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had demanded the release of these men, held since before an interim peace deal in 1993,as a condition for renewing talks with Israel which had run aground in 2010 in a dispute over Jewish settlement building.

Israel agreed in principle last month to free 104 prisoners in four stages, depending on the progress of U.S.-brokered talks for Palestinian statehood that resumed on July 30 after Secretary of State John Kerry's intensive shuttle diplomacy.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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