Middle East

Israel to free next 26 Palestinian prisoners under deal

Banner showing Palestinian prisoner Moses Qaran in Ramallah
Image caption Israel agreed to free 104 prisoners as part of a deal to restart peace talks

The Israeli government has approved the release of another 26 Palestinian prisoners as part of a US-brokered deal for the resumption of peace talks.

They will be the second round of prisoners to be freed since August.

The prisoners were all convicted of murders - all but one committed before 1993 accords between Israel and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation).

Israeli and Palestinian officials resumed direct talks in Jerusalem in August after a three-year hiatus.

As part of the process, Israel agreed to release 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners.

Staggered release

The names of the latest group of detainees set for release were published on the Israel Prisons Service website on Sunday.

Officials say the release will take place at least 48 hours after the publication of the list, during which time Israelis will have the opportunity to submit legal challenges against the decision.

A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the inmates due to be freed had spent between 19 and 28 years behind bars.

Image caption Israel freed 26 Palestinian prisoners in the early hours of 14 August

The 26 Palestinian inmates previously released by Israel had also been convicted of murder or attempted murder.

They were taken by bus in the early hours of 14 August to the Beitunia checkpoint in the West Bank and the Erez crossing with Gaza.

Correspondents said they were mobbed by relatives, friends and well-wishers, who see them as heroes of the Palestinian cause.

The release of the remaining prisoners is expected to take place in four tranches over a period of nine months, depending on progress in the talks.

Few details have been published about the second phase of releases.

An Israeli official said last week that the move would be accompanied by an announcement over the continued construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Peace talks broke down in 2010 amid disagreement over the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Negotiations resumed in August this year and have been taking place on and off behind closed doors.

Palestinians cancelled a session at the end of August after three Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli forces in Qalandiya refugee camp in the West Bank.

A number of Israelis have also been killed and a nine-year-old Israeli girl stabbed in the past two months in what Israel characterises as "terror attacks" in the West Bank.