Israeli officials released 26 Palestinian prisoners into the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday, where they were met with cheering crowds. The latest amnesty for Palestinian inmates marks one step in a wider U.S. backed peace initiative and comes a day before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returns to the region.
Tuesday’s commuting of sentences is the third of four stages where over 100 inmates will be released from Israeli jails. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed to pardoning prisoners last July as part of a confidence boosting measure with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. All of those released were convicted of killing Israelis before the 1993 Oslo peace accord.
Palestinians raise national flags and hold posters to show their support for prisoners held in Israeli jails on December 28. (Photo: AP)
While Palestinians greeted their freed love ones as returning heroes, Israelis expressed widespread anger and dismay over the commuted sentences. Dozens marched near the home of a pardoned murder in East Jerusalem holding pictures of Israeli victims. Reuters quoted one demonstrator as saying, “releasing terrorists in the name of peace is like pouring fuel on a fire in order to put the fire out. It’s going to explode in your face.” Others denounced the U.S. for pressuring Israel to such a deep concession. Prime Minister Netanyahu criticized Palestinian reactions saying such celebrations of murders does not encourage the peace process.
Even with this “positive step forward,” as characterized by State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, there have been little signs of progress on a framework for peace. Secretary Kerry hopes to have such a framework completed within nine months, which could lead to another peace agreement before President Obama leaves the White House.