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Israel Approves Release of Palestinian Prisoners

The Israeli government has approved the release of long-held Palestinian prisoners in a decision that comes days before Israeli and Palestinian officials are due to meet to try to revive stalled peace talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu overcame strong opposition within his Cabinet to secure Sunday's approval of the prisoner release by a vote of 13 ministers in favor to seven against, with two abstentions.

Under the Cabinet decision, 104 Palestinian prisoners will be released in four stages during a period of U.S.-proposed peace talks with the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who voted in favor of the releases, said they will be carried out "only if" the Palestinians prove to be a "serious" partner in the planned negotiations.

Mr. Abbas' government has said Israel must free long-held prisoners in order for negotiations to proceed. Israeli media have said the prisoners include Palestinians convicted of decades-old deadly attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces.

The Israeli Cabinet's offer to release such prisoners drew opposition from ultranationalist ministers who said it would be a reward for "terrorism." Israeli media said Mr. Netanyahu told his ministers the prisoner decision was "difficult" for him and the families of those killed but also necessary to renew the peace process.

Palestinian officials have said they expect to hold preliminary talks with Israeli negotiators in Washington on Tuesday. The two sides last opened formal negotiations in September 2010 but the process collapsed within weeks.

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