Israel released 26 Palestinian inmates, including many convicted in grisly killings, on the eve of renewed Mideast negotiations, angering families of those slain by the prisoners, who were welcomed as heroes in the West Bank and Gaza. Buses carrying the inmates departed the Ayalon prison in central Israel late today, a nighttime release that was aimed at preventing the spectacle of prisoners flashing victory signs as has happened in the past. Relatives of the victims, many with their hands painted red to symbolize what they say is the blood on the hands of the inmates, held protests throughout the day.
Most of the prisoners were convicted of killings, including Israeli civilians, soldiers and suspected Palestinian collaborators, while others were involved in attempted murder or kidnapping. Celebrations erupted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where thousands of Palestinian well-wishers awaited the buses' arrival. The release was part of an agreement brokered by the US to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the table for peace talks that had been paralyzed since 2008. In all, 104 convicts are to be released in four batches. Israelis and Palestinians are to launch talks in Jerusalem tomorrow, but that may be complicated by Israel's approval of 1,200 new settlement homes. (Read more Jerusalem stories.)