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Israel Names Palestinian Prisoners to Be Released

  • VOA News

The mother of Palestinian Salah al-Shaer, who has been held by Israel for 20 years, kisses his picture after hearing news on the expected release of her son by Israel, in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, Aug. 12, 2013.

The mother of Palestinian Salah al-Shaer, who has been held by Israel for 20 years, kisses his picture after hearing news on the expected release of her son by Israel, in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, Aug. 12, 2013.

Israel has published the names of 26 long-held Palestinian prisoners it plans to release ahead of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on Wednesday.

Most of the Palestinians to be freed were jailed in the late 1980s and early 1990s for murder and attempted murder of Israelis and other Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel.

The 26 prisoners are the first of 104 inmates that Israel has agreed to release in stages depending on the progress of the U.S.-backed peace talks.

Palestinian Minister for Prisoner Affairs Issa Qaraqe called the planned prisoner release a "good step."

"This is an important thing for us. The prisoners who will be released, most of them were sentenced to a lifetime [in jail]. The majority of them have spent more than 20 years in the [Israeli] occupation jails. I think this is an important achievement," said Issa Qaraq.

An Israeli organization representing victims of terrorism expressed outrage at the Israeli government's move. Almagor head Meir Indor said it is a sad day for the families of those killed by the soon-to-be released Palestinians.

"One of the victims was Isaac Rotenberg. He was a Holocaust survivor, he was a [World War II partisan," said Indor. "He made it [through], he came to Israel after all his family was destroyed. He fought for the country, became a small businessman and a building contractor, and his workers killed him with knives. What a shame!"

Relatives of the 26 prisoners celebrated the Israeli announcement.

In Bethlehem, women and children sang and danced at the home of Khaled Mohamed Asakreh. He was arrested by Israel in 1991 and convicted of stabbing to death a 64-year-old female French tourist at a restaurant where he worked as a waiter. Khaled's brother Nayef expressed mixed emotions.

"I feel good, but I wish my parents were still alive to welcome Khaled after this long period. My father spent 20 years visiting his son and waiting for the moment to see Khaled [free]," said Nayef Asakreh.

Israel published the prisoners' names early Monday, triggering a 48-hour period in which Israelis can petition the nation's highest court to block the releases. But, the court is not expected to intervene.

The publication came hours after Israel approved the building of almost 1,200 new homes in occupied areas claimed by the Palestinians. Palestinian officials criticized Sunday's move as an attempt to undermine the peace process.

The areas where the new homes will be built include parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem and the West Bank for a future state, and say Israeli settlement expansion will make it harder for them to achieve that.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev rejected the criticism, saying the new homes will be located in areas that Israel is likely to keep in any peace deal.

The U.S. government refuses to accept the legitimacy of Israeli settlement activity. It has called on both Israelis and Palestinians to avoid actions that complicate negotiations.

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