BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) – Israel released 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners Tuesday at 2.15 a.m. completing a third stage of the release of 104 prisoners held in Israeli jails before the Oslo Accords of 1994.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to set the prisoners free before peace talks between Israel and the PLO were resumed in July.
Eighteen prisoners from the West Bank were released from Ofer detention center near the Ramallah-area town of Beitunia, while five prisoners from Jerusalem were set free at al-Zaytouna checkpoint near al-Ezariya in East Jerusalem.
Three inmates from the Gaza Strip were freed at Erez checkpoint on the borders between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip.
The West Bank prisoners headed immediately to the presidential compound in Ramallah where they were welcomed by President Mahmoud Abbas along with PA officials and thousands of citizens.
The prisoners laid flowers at the tomb of late Palestinian president and leader Yasser Arafat in the courtyard of the presidential compound.
In the presence of the freed veteran prisoners, Abbas lighted a torch commemorating the 49th anniversary of Fatah movement and the Palestinian revolution.
When prisoners were released from Ofer detention center, Israeli forces fired tear-gas canisters at the crowds who gathered outside to celebrate the release.
Similarly, Israeli troops dispersed with stun grenades hundreds of Jerusalem residents who crowded near al-Ezariya to celebrate.
Israeli intelligence asked families of Jerusalem prisoners to wait at Zaytouna checkpoint, while five prisoners were taken to a military base near Issawiya.
Each family was then allowed to send one vehicle into the military base to receive prisoners before leaving.