Israel approves release of Palestinian prisoners

Palestinian relatives of prisoner Israr Samreen, who has been jailed by Israel, hang a poster that reads, "leader of prisoners in Ramallah, the heroic prisoner, Israr Mostafa Samreen, 24-year prisoner for Palestine." Samreen is expected to be among the prisoners released by Israel this week.
(Majdi Mohammed / Associated Press)

JERUSALEM -- Israeli officials have approved a list of 26 Palestinian prisoners to be released later this week as part of the peace talks that were renewed this past summer, according to a government statement Sunday evening.

It is the second group of prisoners being released in keeping with an Israeli decision in July to gradually free 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners.

The prisoners slated for release have been serving sentences in connection with the killings of 30 Israelis in attacks that took place prior to the 1993 Oslo peace accords.

The prisoner in the group who has been behind bars the longest is Issa Abed Rabbo, convicted of murdering university students Revital Seri and Ron Levy, who were hiking around the Cremisan monastery south of Jerusalem in 1984. Abed Rabbo was arrested and tried a short time later and has been incarcerated ever since.

Following the announcement, dozens of people arrived at the home of Abed Rabbo’s parents in the Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem to congratulate them, Israel media reported.


After a special ministerial committee approved the list and victims’ families were notified, the names were published [link in Hebrew] by the Israeli Prisoner Service, opening a 48-hour window for legal petitions in the matter.

Typically, Israel’s Supreme Court rejects petitions seeking to halt government decisions to release Palestinian prisoners. Atty. Gen. Yehuda Weinstein has already informed the Almagor Assn. for Terror Victims that he will not intervene.

Bereaved families of victims, backed by political activists, were planning a human-chain protest outside the Ofer prison in the West Bank late Monday. Barring legal intervention, the prisoners are to be released Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

Such releases are generally a prickly issue in Israel, and this one provoked a fierce political dispute among members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, as members of his political coalition demanded that the Cabinet rethink the move and even tried to block it with a bill proposing to ban releasing Palestinian prisoners altogether.

“We have to honor government decisions even if it is difficult or unpleasant,” Netanyahu told ministers of his party ahead of a Cabinet meeting Sunday. “We can’t constantly change our stance,” he said.

Netanyahu faces increasing resistance from hawks in his coalition, and even his own party, who oppose negotiating a two-state solution with the Palestinians, and the fault lines in his government are showing.

Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich has repeatedly promised that her Labor Party would provide Netanyahu with a security net if recalcitrant forces in his coalition threatened to block tangible progress toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

The real question is not about releasing prisoners but whether Netanyahu genuinely wants to make an historic decision for peace, Yachimovich said.

If he does, he will enjoy broad international support and backing from the Israeli opposition, but he must make up his mind, Yachimovich told Israeli media Monday. Ultimately, she said, “the prime minister holds the keys to this decision ... not an easy one for a right-wing ideologue.”

According to Israeli media, Netanyahu intends to try to appease the resistant members of his government by advancing tenders for the construction of as many as 1,700 housing units on lands annexed after the 1967 war. Most would be in a controversial Jerusalem development on land claimed by the Palestinians for a future state; the remainder would be elsewhere in the West Bank.

Following the announcement of the pending prisoner release, rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel on Monday morning, breaking a recent calm. Israel’s air force targeted rocket launchers in Gaza in response. No injuries were reported in either incident.


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