According to the New York Times:
“Israel released 26 long-serving Palestinian prisoners late Tuesday as part of an American-brokered deal allowing the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on Wednesday.
“A cheer went up as the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, escorted 11 of the prisoners into the presidential compound here after 1:30 a.m. Wednesday. The crowd, made up mainly of relatives and friends of the returning prisoners, had started to thin out but grew larger as they approached. After the official reception, they sped off to their homes around the West Bank in convoys, their pictures taped to the car windows, their horns honking.
“The other 15 prisoners released by Israel went directly to their homes in Gaza.
“The overnight release was widely thought here to have been timed by Israel to try to minimize scenes of celebration and news media coverage. The Palestinian public has also been somewhat apathetic over an Israeli gesture seen by many Palestinians as too little, too late.
“Still, here on the Palestinian side of the divide, the prisoners, most of whom had served 20 years or more in prison for deadly attacks against Israelis, were viewed as political prisoners who had sacrificed for the cause and a potent symbol of resistance to Israeli occupation.”
Just the First
According to The BBC:
“In a speech, Mr. Abbas said he would not rest ‘until we free all the prisoners from Israeli jails’.
‘”We congratulate ourselves and our families for our brothers who left the darkness of the prisons for the light of the sun of freedom. We say to them and to you that the remainder are on their way, these are just the first,’ he added.
“Israel has agreed to free a further 78 long-serving prisoners as part of a deal to revive the peace process. The releases will take place in four tranches over a period of nine months, depending on progress in the talks.”
Settlement move ‘expected’
The BBC reports, “Despite the positive Palestinian reaction to the prisoner releases, many fear Wednesday’s talks will be overshadowed by the Israeli housing ministry’s decision Sunday to issue tenders for the building of 793 housing units in East Jerusalem and 394 elsewhere in the West Bank.
“Palestinian representatives accused Israel of trying to sabotage the negotiations.
“About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
“On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged the Palestinians ‘not to react adversely.'”