Palestinians celebrate prisoner releases

Issue 

Palestinian families celebrated on August 14 as Israel released 26 prisoners on the eve of long-stalled peace talks.

Buses carrying the inmates left the Ayalon prison in central Israel late on August 13. Celebrations erupted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where thousands of Palestinian well-wishers awaited the buses' arrival.

Fireworks lit the sky in Gaza, where rival Hamas and Fatah supporters alike celebrated to the beat of drums. Some danced while others flashed victory signs and waved flags of the Palestinian factions.

Palestinians hurled rocks at the Israeli military vehicles escorting the bus convoy as it reached the crossing to the West Bank after 1am. About 1000 people took to the streets of Ramallah in celebration, singing and dancing.

There are about 4500 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

“Today is a day of joy and happiness,” said Aicha Abu Setta, the 68-year-old mother of freed prisoner Alla Abu Setta, who was arrested in 1994. “I can't wait until I hug my beloved son.”

But the decision to release the men stirred fury among some Israelis. Demonstrators, many with their hands painted red to symbolise what they claim is the blood on the hands of the inmates, held protests throughout the day and some protesters tried to block the buses from leaving.

The release was part of an agreement brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the table for peace talks that had been paralysed since 2008. In all, 104 prisoners are to be released in four batches, although their freedom depends on progress in peace talks.

Israelis and Palestinian Authority representatives began the talks in Jerusalem on August 14.

[Abridged from Morning Star.]

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