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Israel Frees Palestinian terrorists Before Peace Talks

WJC, Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators are due to convene Wednesday in Jerusalem after a three-year stand-off ended with a first round preliminary talks in Washington last month. Follow-up meetings are expected every few weeks in venues including Jericho in the West Bank in pursuit of US Secretary of State John Kerry's goal of clinching a peace accord within nine months. On Tuesday, Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners who served jail sentences for terrorism offenses.

Israel’s announcement to build new houses in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim to be part of their state has caused controversy. However, the release of the 26, the first batch of 104 Palestinians serving long jail terms in Israel, may improve Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's domestic standing despite his having dropped demands to condition peace talks on a halt to settlement building.

Hundreds of their relatives gathered in the presidential compound in Ramallah in the early hours of Wednesday, waving Palestinian flags and greeting their arrival with tears and chants. Abbas greeted each of the eleven prisoners released to the West Bank with kisses on both cheeks. He locked hands with some of the prisoners making victory signs on a high stage and basked in waves of flash photography. "We congratulate ourselves and our families for our brothers who left the darkness of the prisons for the light of the sun of freedom. We say to them and to you that the remainder are on their way, these are just the first," Abbas told the crowd.

In Gaza, when the other fifteen prisoners crossed an Israeli checkpoint into Palestinian territory, their family members fired guns and set off fireworks.
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