Israel to free Palestinian prisoners over Kerry talks

Israel announced on Saturday it would free Palestinian prisoners as a "gesture" and part of an agreement made with US Secretary of State John Kerry to resume peace talks.

"There will be some release of prisoners," said Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz. "I don't want to give numbers but there will be heavyweight prisoners who have been in jail for tens of years."

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The release would be carried out in phases, he added.

While the number of prisoners to be freed has not been divulged, one Palestinian official said discussions had previously focused on releasing 350 prisoners over a period of months, including about 100 men who have been held since before 1993, when Israelis and Palestinians signed the Oslo peace accords.

The announcement of the prisoners' release came just hours after Kerry told reporters in Amman late Friday that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had laid the groundwork to continue with peace talks, which have been frozen for the past three years.

Kerry said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni would meet him in Washington "to begin initial talks within the next week or so."

But Steinitz said that Israel would not give in on other sticking points, like border issues.

Palestinians have said negotiations involving their future state need to have borders similar to those territories before Israel captured them in a 1967 Middle East war.

Israelis, on the other hand, have said such borders would be indefensible for their state and that no concessions would be made on that point and on the Palestinian demand that Israel stop construction in West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements.

"There is no chance that we will agree to enter any negotiations that begins with defining territorial borders or concessions by Israel," Steinitz said, "nor a construction freeze."

Israel and the Palestinians last talks were held in 2010 and were halted due to the issue of settlement building.