Israel transferred five Palestinian prisoners to a Gaza border crossing from the Ofer detention center in the occupied West Bank late Tuesday, ahead of their expected release.
Twenty-six prisoners were due to be released late Tuesday as part of a four-stage deal to coincide with a return to peace negotiations in July.
All 26 were convicted of killing Israelis, with most of the attacks occurring before the 1993 Oslo Accords. A first group of 26 prisoners was freed on Aug. 13.
In Israel, the move to release the second group has sparked tensions within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, and around 2,000 Israelis rallied outside Ofer prison on Monday chanting “Death to terrorists!” and raising placards reading: “Are we crazy? We’re releasing murderers.”
Among the demonstrators was Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a hardliner from the far-right nationalist Jewish Home party, who vowed to ramp up settlement construction in response to the release.
Media reports suggest Israel is planning to announce the construction of 1,500 new housing units in the coming days, up to two thirds of them in annexed East Jerusalem.
The undersecretary of the PA Ministry of Detainee Affairs, Ziad Abu Ein, told Ma’an Tuesday that he welcomed the latest release of 26 detainees and believes it will give “belief and power to the peace process.”
In August, Palestinian Authority Minister of Detainees Issa Qaraqe said Israel’s decision to release the prisoners was an important step for promoting peace.
But Shawan Jabarin, the general director of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq, told Ma’an the PA had made serious compromises in agreeing to the release of 104 prisoners.
“I think the Israelis have played the game for their own interpretation and own interests. In this round there is no-one from Jerusalem and no-one from inside Israel, the 48 area, which means that Israel has delayed this group until the end,” he told Ma’an.
“The price that the Palestinians pay for this, the promise to the Americans that they will not join any international institutions like the ICC, it’s a high price. They compromised rights with rights, it is the right of prisoners to be freed and the right of Palestinians to join the ICC.”
There are 5,007 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, including 137 administrative detainees, 12 women and 180 children, according to prisoners support group Addameer.
(Ma’an – www.maannews.net)