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Palestinian prisoners freed

JERUSALEM, Dec. 30 (JTA) — Israelis this week witnessed more examples of how turbulent — and sometimes painful — the peace process can be.

• Palestinians with Israeli “blood on their hands” walked free;

• Israeli police used force against Jewish settlers encamped on a West Bank hilltop;

• Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met again, and were stuck in disagreement again, over which part of the West Bank Israel should withdraw from next.

A total of 33 Palestinian prisoners — some of whom have been convicted of killing Israelis, left Israeli jails on Wednesday and Thursday. It was partly a goodwill gesture for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and partly a follow-through on promises Israel made to the Palestinians in interim peace deals.

One of those released was a Palestinian who served a lengthy sentence for the murder of an Israeli taxi driver.

Appeals by terror victims and their families not to let the Palestinians go free were rejected by the High Court of Justice.

Previously, Israel has released only Palestinians who have been convicted of killing other Palestinians and steadfastly refused to free those who murdered Jews. This week’s release marked the first indication that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is willing to relax that restriction.

Meir Indor, chairman of a group called the Victims of Terror Association, accused the Israeli court of “accepting the rights of terrorists and ignoring the rights of the victims.”

The prisoners released on Thursday were from eastern Jerusalem, marking the first time residents of the predominantly Arab part of the capital were included in a prisoner release as part of the peace accords.

Meanwhile, the attempt to follow through on another part of the Wye River peace deal — Israeli withdrawal from more of the West Bank — was mired in protest and inconclusive talks.

Israeli and Palestinian officials held another round of talks aimed at resolving a dispute over the delayed transfer of land to Palestinian rule. The disagreement over which lands will be included has delayed Israel’s transfer of 5 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians, which had been scheduled for November.

In another development, Israeli police removed Jewish settlers from a West Bank hilltop, where they had threatened to establish an enclave to prevent an Israeli withdrawal in the area.

The settlers had set up tents at the site of a former army base that had been moved in preparation for a future Israeli withdrawal. Most of the more than 150 settlers detained by police were eventually released.

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