MIDDLE EAST

Israel to free 26 Palestinians on Monday: source

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 8:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 8:03pm

The 26 Palestinian prisoners Israel has agreed to free as part of ongoing peace talks will be released on Monday, a source in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.

Netanyahu had agreed to the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners in line with commitments to the US-backed peace talks, which resumed in July, and groups have been freed on August 13 and October 30.

“Their release should come on Monday night after the 48-hour delay given for appeals from victims’ families to the supreme court,” the official in Netanyahu’s office said on condition of anonymity.

In the past, Israel’s supreme court has turned down all appeals against the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Netanyahu’s government gave the green light on Saturday for the latest tranche of prisoners to be freed.

“All of the released prisoners perpetrated offences prior to the (1993) Oslo accords and have served sentences of 19-28 years,” an Israeli government statement on Saturday said.

“If any of those to be released resume hostile activity they will be returned to serve the remainder of their sentences,” the statement warned.

The planned release of the latest group of detainees comes as US Secretary of State John Kerry prepares for a fresh tour of the region on New Year’s Day to try to push talks forward.

It will be his 10th trip to Israel and the West Bank since March, with his most recent visit in early December.

Kerry has been piling on the pressure in a bid to nudge the Palestinians and Israelis to reach an interim framework ahead of a full accord ahead of a deadline set to expire in late April.

Meanwhile, Israel is set to announce plans for new settlement construction to coincide with the prisoners’ release, an official said on Thursday.

Media reports say the plans are for 1,400 settler homes.

Kerry and the European Union earlier this month urged Netanyahu to delay plans to announce new settlement construction on land Palestinians want for their future state.

But Netanyahu was bullish in the face of international pressure over settlement construction.

“We will not stop, even for a moment, building our country and becoming stronger, and developing... the settlement enterprise,” he told members of his rightwing Likud party last week.