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Abbas to welcome released prisoners

Aug. 13, 2013 8:18 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 14, 2013 6:10 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas has asked Palestinian leaders to gather at his headquarters in Ramallah on Tuesday night to welcome veteran prisoners expected to be released by Israel.

Abbas and several leaders will receive the freed prisoners at midnight, the Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh told Ma'an.

Israel has agreed to release 104 prisoners detained since before the 1993 Oslo Accords in stages throughout negotiations with the PLO.. The first group of 26 are expected to be released before peace talks resume in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

Israeli media reported that the prisoners would be freed between midnight and dawn on Wednesday to reduce scenes of joy among Palestinians welcoming the returning prisoners.

A special ministerial committee announced late Sunday it had approved the 26 prisoners to be released ahead of talks, according to a statement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The names of the prisoners -- most of whom were arrested for killing Israelis and Palestinians suspected of collaboration -- were published early Monday morning.

Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat underlined the importance of the prisoner release for peace talks to continue.

"We hope to put into effect what we've agreed on ... we hope for the release of 104 prisoners. Each will return to his house. This is what we've agreed on," he told Israeli Arabic-language radio on Monday.

"There is a clear understanding between us and the Americans and Israelis. Any change (in that) will mean the agreement is off the table."

The decision to free prisoners has angered the families of those killed in assaults.

"This is a day of celebration for terror organisations," Meir Indor, head of Almagor, a group representing Israeli victims of Palestinian attacks, told AFP on Monday.

Most prisoners being freed were arrested for "murder", with five being "accomplices to murder" and one being guilty of "abduction and killing", Israel says.

Three of the prisoners were jailed by Israel for killing Palestinians, presumably those they had deemed to be collaborators.

All prisoners had been arrested before 1994 except one who was arrested in 2001.

Housing Minister Uri Ariel of the far-right Jewish Home party also reacted angrily to the impending releases.

"Terrorists belong in prison," Ariel said in a statement on Monday. "The terrorists who are being released murdered women and children, and it's not clear to me how releasing murderers can help peace."
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