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Israel to free 26 Palestinian prisoners this week ahead of peace talks

Jerusalem, Aug 12 (): Israel has approved the release of 26 long-term Palestinian prisoners and published the names of 26 Palestinian prisoners who are to be released later this week as part of a U.S.-brokered deal that led to a recommencement of Mideast negotiations.

On Sunday evening, a statement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that 26 prisoners would be released. Following the government decision to renew peace talks with the Palestinians and appoint a ministerial committee to free prisoners during negotiations, the committee approved the release of 26 prisoners, the statement read.

The statement also said that the prisoners would be released at least 48 hours after a list of their names was published by the Israeli Prison Service.

Israel’s Prison Service posted the names online early on Monday to allow two days for possible court appeals. The list includes the prisoners’ names, crimes, date of arrest as well as the names of their victims. The prisoners will be freed on Tuesday. The delay allows time for last-minute legal challenges by victims’ families.

All prisoners had been arrested in the years leading up to 1994 except one who was arrested in 2001. Fourteen of the prisoners will be transferred to the Gaza Strip and the other 12 to the West Bank. Eight were due to be released in the next three years, two of them in the next six months.

These 26 prisoners would be the first of four groups totalling 104 that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet last month agreed to release. The decision comes three days before a scheduled second round of Israeli-Palestinian talks being held in Israel and the West Bank.

On Wednesday, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were set to continue talks in Jerusalem on ending their long-standing conflict. Last month, they restarted direct negotiations in Washington ending a three-year interruption after thorough US intervention.