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Israel frees Palestinian prisoners

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By The Associated Press
Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, 9:39 p.m.
 

JERUSALEM — Israel released more than two dozen Palestinian prisoners convicted in deadly attacks against Israelis early on Tuesday as part of a U.S.-brokered package to restart Mideast peace talks.

After departing on buses from Israeli jails overnight, the prisoners received heroes' welcomes upon their return to the West Bank and Gaza with officials and jubilant relatives lining up to greet them. At his headquarters in Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waited to meet the men in the middle of the night. Speaking before thousands, he pledged to continue pressing for the release of long-serving and ill prisoners.

“We will not sign a final peace deal with Israel before all the prisoners are released,” he said.

In Israel, though, the release was accompanied by great anger and frustration with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

With Netanyahu expected to accompany the releases with plans to build hundreds of new homes in Jewish settlements, the criticism originated from some unlikely quarters. Dovish supporters of peace talks said the expected construction would destroy any goodwill generated by the prisoner release, while hard-line allies criticized Netanyahu for linking the Jewish settlement cause with the release of prisoners convicted in connection with killings, mostly of Israelis.

“Leadership is judged by the ability to implement decisions, difficult as they may be,” Netanyahu told members of his Likud Party on Monday. “We were not elected to make easy decisions.”

Under a formula drawn up by Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel agreed last summer to release 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners in order to restart talks with the Palestinians.

In exchange, the Palestinians dropped their longstanding demand for Israel to halt construction of homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

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