Israel Raises Temperature in Runup to Middle East Peace Talks

Photo Credit: Reuters In highly contentious moves heralding the renewal of Middle East peace talks this week, Israel on Sunday identified 26 long-term Palestinian prisoners to be released on Tuesday after authorising 1,200 new homes to be built in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The apparently choreographed steps came three days before the first substantive negotiations for five years, aimed at reaching a historic settlement of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict by next May. The outcome of intense shuttle diplomacy by US secretary of state John Kerry, the talks will resume amid widespread scepticism on both sides.

The list of names was published late on Sunday night to allow time for last-minute legal challenges from the families of victims. The group is among a total of 104 prisoners whose crimes date back more than 20 years who will be freed in stages over the next nine months. Those convicted of the most serious crimes are expected to be the last to be released.

A statement from the office of Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said, of the 26 initially released, 14 would be deported or moved to the Gaza Strip and 12 repatriated to the occupied West Bank. All were convicted of murder or being an accessory to murder; one has been in prison for 28 years.

For most Israelis, the prisoner release is a controversial and painful price for the renewal of the peace process. Victims’ relatives and their supporters have protested against the move over recent weeks and told of their anguish and opposition in interviews and articles in the Israel media.

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