To restart peace talks, Israel agrees to release Palestinian prisoners

Int

Israel will release some "hardcore'' Palestinian prisoners as part of the new breakthrough by US Secretary of State John Kerry in efforts to restart Mideast talks, a senior Israeli official said Saturday.

The remarks by Yuval Steinitz were the first Israeli comment detailing the terms for the negotiations since Kerry on Friday night announced that the two sides will meet soon in Washington to formalise an agreement on relaunching peace talks that collapsed in 2008. Kerry's announcement came after last-minute meetings with Palestinian officials at the end of a day in which he shuttled between the Jordanian capital and the West Bank. In Amman, Kerry said Israel and the Palestinians had agreed on a basis for returning to negotiations, five years after talks broke down.

Steinitz's remarks on Saturday were all the more surprising because Kerry insisted that the agreement is still in the process of being formalised, "so we are absolutely not going to talk about any of the elements now.''

Speaking to Israel Radio on Saturday, Steinitz said that as a step toward resuming those talks Israel has agreed to release "hardcore prisoners," including "those that have been sitting in jail for dozens of years." He did not say how many would be freed, adding only that they would be released in phases In Israeli parlance, term "hardcore'' refers to prisoners implicated in deadly attacks. Their release has been a long-standing Palestinian demand. Steinitz didn't say how many would be released, adding only that they would be freed in phases.

But, Steinitz said, other Palestinian demands will not be met, such as a freeze on settlement building and defining the 1967 lines as borders ahead of the negotiations.

The fate of the prisoners is extremely sensitive in Palestinian society, where after decades of fighting Israel, many families have had a member imprisoned. The Palestinians are held on a range of charges, from rock throwing to deadly assaults like shooting attacks or bombings targeting Israeli soldiers and civilians. The Palestinians mostly view the prisoners as heroes while Israelis tend to see them as terrorists.

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