Israel frees 26 Palestinian prisoners
Updated: 2013-10-31 07:13
By Agencies in Bethlehem, West Bank and Jerusalem (China Daily)
Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners on Wednesday as part of US-brokered peace efforts.
The inmates, convicted of killing Israelis, basked in a heroes' welcome from hundreds of relatives and well-wishers in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
"Our heroes are coming home. Long live the prisoners!" crowds chanted outside the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Issa Abed Rabbo, convicted of murdering two Israeli hikers in 1984, was carried through the alleys of the Biblical town of Bethlehem on the shoulders of cheering Palestinians as fireworks went off and patriotic songs blared.
"My feeling is that of a commander returning from battle, carrying a banner of victory and freedom," he said, his outstretched fingers forming a triumphant V. The inmates, jailed before or just after the first Israeli-Palestinian interim peace deals were signed 20 years ago, were released as part of a limited amnesty demanded by the Palestinians to revive long-stalled statehood negotiations.
The second prisoner-release since peace talks resumed in July after a three-year break opened fissures in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rightist government. A pro-settler coalition partner, the Jewish Home party, and members of his own Likud called on the leader to cancel the amnesty.
The prisoners underwent medical examinations and identification processes and signed a declaration in which they were committed not to resume militant activities against Israel, a spokesman for the Israeli Prison Service told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
They were freed late on Tuesday from Ofer Prison near Ramallah as dozens of right-wing protesters called out against the release of "terrorists with blood on their hands".
In July, the Israeli government decided to release 104 prisoners, to renew peace talks with the Palestinians. This first group was released in August.
The release of the prisoners drew criticism mainly from right-wing lawmakers and activists, and bereaved families, in particular, of those killed in terror acts by the militants.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Supreme Court cleared the way for the latest release after rejecting an appeal by 20 bereaved families opposed to the release.
Freed Palestinian prisoner Ahmed al-Damoni, who was held by Israel for 23 years, holds his niece inside his family's house in the central Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Al-Damoni was convicted of killing an Israeli in 1990. Israel freed 26 Palestinian prisoners on Wednesday. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters
(China Daily 10/31/2013 page11)