JERUSALEM — The Israeli government Monday released the names of 26 Palestinian prisoners to be freed ahead of fresh peace talks this week.
The 26 prisoners, slated for release early on Wednesday, are the first of 104 Palestinian inmates that Israel has agreed to let go as part of the conditions for resuming direct negotiations.
Twenty-one were convicted of killing Israeli citizens or suspected Palestinian collaborators. Others were found guilty of attempted murder. Most have served over 20 years of their terms.
While Palestinians prepared them a hero's welcome, Israeli airwaves were clogged with the voices of bereaved family members, anguished at the imminent release of their loved ones' killers.
Despite the Israeli government's assurances that all affected families would be informed ahead of time of the prisoner release, many seemed to find out about it only when the media called them early Monday morning.
Isaac Rotenberg, a Holocaust survivor, was killed in 1994 when he was hit from behind with an ax. Speaking on Israel Army Radio, his son Pini said he could not support the release of his father's murderer "only for the promise of peace talks."
"For peace, we can agree to release," he said. "But not just for a meeting."
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The Palestinian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, dispatched a cable to all its embassies instructing representatives to refer to the released prisoners as "freedom fighters." Real terrorists, it said, could be found sitting around the Israeli cabinet table.
"The international definition of terrorism completely befits some Israeli politicians, who distort the image of the freedom-fighting Palestinian prisoner, especially [the image] of those sitting in Israeli prisons from before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993," the cable said.
The barbs were the latest in a flurry of recriminations that have been flying as negotiators prepare to resume talks Wednesday in Jerusalem.
After the Israeli government issued tenders Sunday for almost 1,200 new homes in occupied territory, senior Palestinian negotiator Muhammad Shtayyeh accused Israel of "deliberately attempting to sabotage US and international efforts to resume negotiations by approving more settlement units three days before the first Palestinian-Israeli meeting."
In response Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote to US Secretary of State John Kerry, the sponsor of these latest talks, to complain of "incitement" by the Palestinians — including comments by an anchor on the Palestinian Authority's official TV news channel that the future state of Palestine would extend "from Rosh Hanikra to Eilat." That comprises the entire length of Israel.
"Incitement and peace don’t go together," Netanyahu's letter said. "Instead of educating the next generation of Palestinians to live in peace with Israel, the education of hate poisons them against Israel and lays the groundwork for continued violence and terror."