Israel releases 26 Palestinian prisoners
The released inmates laid flowers on the grave of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Israel freed 26 Palestinian prisoners on Tuesday under an agreement following U.S.-brokered peace talks, a day before the arrival of Secretary of State John Kerry who returns to boost the shaky negotiations.
These were the third group of Palestinian prisoners that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved to release.
These were the third group of 104 Palestinian prisoners whose release was earlier approved by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in July, when the peace talks were resumed.
The remaining prisoners are expected to be released around March 2014.
The release came after an Israeli court rejected a last-minute appeal by the victim’s families.
The prisoners were released shortly after 00:00 GMT Tuesday.
Washington welcomed the release calling it “a positive step forward in the overall process.”
“Two vans carrying  prisoners left Ofer prison,” a Palestinian official told Agence France-Presse.
President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the Ramallah prisoners with warm embraces at his presidential compound, reported an AFP correspondent.
“There would be no final agreement [with Israel] until all prisoners were in their homes,” pledged Abbas to the prisoners and their families.
The released inmates then laid flowers on the grave of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, added AFP’s correspondent.
The vans carrying the prisoners headed towards Ramallah, reported the agency.
According to AFP correspondents, thee prisoners were taken to the Gaza Strip and five others headed to the annexed east Jerusalem. These reached before 00:30 GMT.
Victim’s families protested the release of prisoners from east Jerusalem, saying that it contradicted a commitment made by Netanyahu.
All 26 prisoners were jailed before signing 1993’s Oslo accords, the agreement that formally initiated the Middle East peace process.
They were serving 19 to 28 years in jail for killing Israeli civilians or soldiers.
On the other side of the border, around 150 protesters took to Israeli streets from the premier’s residence in Jerusalem on Monday night, bearing pictures of the victims with slogans against the release.