Israel releases another 26 prisoners

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel released a third group of Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal aimed at jumpstarting peace negotiations.

Israel freed 26 prisoners late Monday night in the third of fourth scheduled releases of a total of 104 Palestinians jailed for killing Israeli citizens, according to news reports.

The release came despite a Supreme Court petition from the organization Almagor, which represents victims of terrorism. The group asked the court to prevent the release of six of the prisoners who are residents of eastern Jerusalem and hold Israeli identification cards.

The prisoners were greeted with a hero’s welcome in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas waited through the night to greet the men at his headquarters in Ramallah, the Associated Press reported.

The list of prisoners was published late Saturday night on the Israel Prison Service website. Anyone who objects to the release of a prisoner must appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court within 48 hours.

The prisoners to be released committed their terrorist acts before the Oslo Accords, and have served at least 19 years in an Israeli prison, according to a statement released Saturday night by the Prime Minister’s Office. “If any of those to be released resume hostile activity they will be returned to serve the remainder of their sentences,” the statement said.

Twenty-three of the prisoners were convicted of killing Israeli soldiers, civilians or Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel.

Demonstrations against the release including family members of terrorist victims have been held outside the Prime Minister’s Jerusalem residence for the last several days, with a large-scale protest and vigil planned for Monday night. While the group’s request to hold the large-scale protest beginning on Sunday night through the release was at first denied, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told demonstrators he would see to it that they be allowed to hold the protest.

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