Israel frees Palestinian prisoners

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Israel has freed a group of 26 Palestinian prisoners, whose release was agreed as part of the deal that allowed peace talks to resume.

The prisoners, most of whom carried out attacks more than 20 years ago, were driven out of a jail in white minibuses with tinted windows.

About half are being taken straight to Gaza, and half to the West Bank. Palestinian and Israeli negotiators began direct talks two weeks ago for the first time in three years.

Another round of talks is due to begin in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

Israel agreed to release the 26 long-term prisoners as the first of 104 Palestinian and Israeli Arab inmates to be freed over the next few months.

The men were driven away from the Ayalon prison complex late at night in vehicles with darkened windows to avoid any display of triumphalism.

Small groups of Israeli protesters had gathered outside the prison and jeered as the buses drove off.

Relatives and friends of the freed men have gathered on the frontier with Gaza and the West Bank, with bands playing bagpipes parading through flag-waving crowds.

The prisoners going to the West Bank are expected to be rushed off to a celebration with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The inmates were named by Israel’s prison service shortly after midnight on Sunday, giving victims’ families 48 hours to submit legal challenges to the High Court.

Earlier on Tuesday, the court rejected an appeal by a victims’ rights group that objected to the release of all of the prisoners.

Meanwhile, Palestinian negotiators have reacted angrily to news that the Israeli authorities have approved the building of more than 1,000 homes in settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians.

Israel says the new homes will be built on land they would expect to keep as part of any future deal on territory.

US Secretary of State John Kerry says the Palestinians remain committed to the talks despite the settlement issue.

About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Palestinians want to establish their state in those areas, as well as the Gaza Strip.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

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