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Israel okays 26 Palestinian prisoners for release


The Israeli government approved late Sunday the release of 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners, an official statement said, ahead of renewed peace talks between the sides set for later this week.

"Following the government decision to renew peace talks with the Palestinians and appoint a ministerial committee to free prisoners during negotiations... the committee approved the release of 26 prisoners," a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office read.

According to the statement, the names will be published on the Israel prison service's website early on Monday, "after the bereaved families will receive notice".

"On the list approved are 14 prisoners who will be transferred to Gaza and 12 from Judaea and Samaria," the biblical term for the West Bank, the statement continued.

"Eight of the prisoners on the list were set to be freed in the upcoming three years, two of them in the next six months," said the statement. "The release of the prisoners will take place at least 48 hours after publishing the list."

According to the statement, the three ministers on the panel -- Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet security agency -- stressed that "if one of those released returned to hostile activities against Israel, he will be returned to complete his sentence."

The 26 constitute the first batch of a total of 104 long-term Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners, in jail since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords, who were to be freed in four stages, depending on progress in the talks.

According to media reports, most of them were involved in attacks that killed Israelis, and the families were expected to appeal to the High Court of Justice against the impending release.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were set to resume talks in Jerusalem on Wednesday on ending their long-standing conflict.

They resumed direct negotiations in Washington last month ending a three-year hiatus after painstaking US mediation.