JERUSALEM — Israel today published the names of 26 Palestinian prisoners, most of them jailed for deadly attacks, who are to be released this week as part of a U.S.-brokered deal that led to a resumption of Mideast negotiations.
Israelis and Palestinians are to launch talks in Jerusalem on Wednesday, following a preparatory round two weeks ago in Washington. The prisoner release, expected Tuesday, is part of an agreement to restart the talks after a five-year freeze.
Relatives of some of the Israeli victims protested angrily over the list, while Palestinian pro-prisoner activists said it fell short of expectations. In all, Israel is to free 104 of the longest-held Palestinian prisoners in coming months, most of them detained for killing Israelis or suspected Palestinian collaborators.
They are to be freed in four stages over the course of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which are envisioned to go on for about nine months.
Israel’s Prison Service posted the 26 names online early today to allow two days for possible court appeals.
Twenty-one in the group were convicted of killings, while others were involved in attempted murder or kidnapping.
Half the prisoners on the list had no given release date, meaning they were serving full life terms, while others would have been released in a few years without the special deal. Most have already served around 20 years, with the longest-held arrested in 1985.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians have spent time in Israeli prisons on security charges since Israel’s capture of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in 1967. They are jailed on charges ranging from throwing rocks to killing civilians in bombing and shooting attacks.
Most Palestinians view prisoners as heroes, regardless of their acts, arguing they made personal sacrifices in the struggle for independence.
Many Israelis view those involved in the killings as terrorists for killing civilians.
Among the victims of the prisoners slated for release was Isaac Rotenberg, who was killed in 1994 at the age of 69 by Palestinians who attacked him with axes while he was working at a construction site, said his son, Pini.
Rotenberg had survived the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland and fought alongside partisans in World War II before moving to Israel, his son said.
“It’s painful to pay such a heavy price just as a concession for talks,” Pini Rotenberg said.
Other victims included Ian Feinberg, an Israeli lawyer stabbed to death in a European aid office in Gaza City in 1993 and Frederick Steven Rosenfeld, who had moved to Israel from Washington, D.C., in the late 1960s and was stabbed to death while hiking in the West Bank in 1989.
It is a “sad day for bereaved families and for Israeli society,” said Meir Indor, who heads a group of victims’ families.
The Palestinians argue that the prisoners carried out their acts at a time of outright conflict, before Israel and the Palestinians struck their first interim peace agreement in 1994. They say Israel should have released the prisoners long ago, as part of previous peace talks.
Kadoura Fares, who heads a prisoners’ advocacy group, said he was disappointed some of the longest-held among the 104 weren’t in the first group set for release.
The U.S. envisions an agreement within nine months on the terms of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, including drawing a border, agreeing on security arrangements and deciding the fate of Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinians want a state to include the territories Israel captured in 1967.
The diplomatic paralysis of the last five years was largely due to disputes over the construction of Israeli settlements in areas the Palestinians want for a future state.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has long insisted he will only resume talks if Israel freezes construction. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a freeze.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry eventually brokered the resumption of negotiations, and Abbas dropped a settlement freeze as a condition for talks.
In exchange, Kerry won Israeli agreement that it will release the 104 Palestinians.
Other relatives of the Israeli victims of the prisoners also voiced their anger.
“These are not political prisoners they are terrorists and murderers who will be returning home to a hero’s welcome,” Gila Molcho, whose brother was the fatally stabbed lawyer Feinberg, told Israeli Channel 2 TV. “They will be celebrating the killers of our brothers and children.”
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