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Israeli lawmakers agree to release Palestinian prisoners

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Cabinet voted to release 104 Palestinian prisoners as part of the renewed peace process.

Following late-night phone calls and several hours of debate, the Cabinet  in a 13-7 vote backed the release of  Palestinians jailed in Israel since before the 1993 Oslo Accords. Limor Livnat and Silvan Shalom of the ruling Likud Party abstained from the vote.

The release is scheduled to take place over nine months, with the first one in the coming weeks.

Initial meetings between Israeli chief negotiator Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erekat are scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Israeli-Arab prisoners included in the list of 104 will be released in the last group of prisoners, according to Haaretz.

A ministerial committee set up to manage the prisoner release is comprised of  Livni, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, Science Minister Yaakov Peri and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.

“This moment is not easy for me,” Netanyahu said before the vote. “It is not easy for the ministers. It is not easy especially for the families, the bereaved families, whose heart I understand. But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the country, and this is one of those moments.”

Prior to the vote, hundreds of family members of the Palestinian prisoners’ victims and their supporters protested in front of the Knesset.

“Releasing murderers brings a lot of bereavement and it is a mark of disgrace against Israel,” Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, a member of the coalition government, told the protesters before the vote. “Anyone on the other side [the Palestinians] who today calls for the release of murderers and burners of children and women does not deserve to be called a partner.”

“Terrorists need to be wiped out, not released. We will vote against releasing murderers.”

The start of the meeting was delayed by about an hour as Netanyahu continued to work for support for the measure from his Cabinet ministers.

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