Peace talks resume amid prisoner release, rocket attacksby ynetnews.com
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After weeks of Israeli Cabinet discussions, protests and court petitions, 26 Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli prisons Aug. 13 as part of a gesture to the Palestinian Authority in advance of peace talks, which resumed Aug. 14 in Jerusalem.
Both sides have low expectations as they head into the U.S.-sponsored negotiations in Jerusalem, the third attempt since 2000 to agree on the terms of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
In attendance at this second round of negotiations were U.S. Mideast peace envoy Martin Indyk and his deputy, special envoy Frank Lowenstein. On the Israeli side were Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and the prime minister’s representative, attorney Isaac Molho, while on the Palestinian side were chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and senior Fatah official Mohammad Shtayyeh.
The talks resumed despite vehement protest among the Palestinians over Israel’s announcements that it would construct 2,100 apartments in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.
In addition, a color-red siren sounded in southern Israel as rockets were fired from Gaza while the released prisoners were being transported to the border.
Two convoys left the Ayalon Prison Aug. 13 en route to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It is unclear whether the 26 men were asked to sign a paper to pledge they would not engage in terrorist activity, as in past cases.
The prisoners were transported in vans with tinted windows to avoid the semblance of a victorious release. Activists protesting the release tried to block the convoy’s way but were soon removed from the area.
Several hundred Palestinians welcomed the prisoners at the Beitunia checkpoint as they headed into the West Bank, where they were greeted in Ramallah by 1,000 supporters and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “We welcome our brothers who have left the darkness of prison into the light of freedom and tell them they are the first, but there are other brothers who, too, will leave soon,” Abbas said. “We shall not rest until they are all with us.” The prisoners were taken to visit the grave of Yasser Arafat.
The Hamas government issued a ban against celebrations by the Fatah movement in Gaza, saying that a special welcoming ceremony would be held later in the week.
Hamas had ordered the removal of a welcome tent set up by Fatah in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip and warned printing presses not to print posters connected to the prisoners’ release.
The Aug. 13 release is the first of four phases that will see some 100 prisoners freed as negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians progress.
The identity of the 26 men was decided by a ministerial committee chaired by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon that conferred with heads of the defense establishment.
The decision prompted protest by the families of the
terrorists’ victims who filed a petition with the High Court of Justice that ultimately was denied.
In an official statement, Supreme Court President Asher Grunis wrote: “There is no dispute that the issue at hand is difficult and sensitive. Our hearts go out to the families of the terror victims.”
Also part of goodwill gestures to the Palestinians, Israel has agreed to hand over the bodies of Palestinian terrorists who were buried in Israel.
Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh confirmed the details and added that the coming transfer will most likely include dozens of bodies.
Last year, Israel transferred to the Palestinians 91 bodies of terrorists that were buried in a cemetery for enemy fatalities. At the time, 79 of the bodies were transferred to the West Bank and 12 to the Gaza Strip.
JTA and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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