Israel was scheduled to release 26 convicted Palestinian terrorists early
Wednesday morning, with the timing of the release designed to limit both the
size of the Palestinian celebrations and pictures of those celebrations
streaming into Israeli homes.
A few minutes before 6 p.m. on Tuesday, the
Prisons Service announced that the five prisoners set to be released to the Gaza
Strip had already exited Ofer Prison and were on their way to the Erez
They added that they and the remaining 21 returning to the West
Bank were scheduled to cross the checkpoints into the Palestinian Authority and
the Gaza Strip at 1 a.m. Wednesday.
The government approved the release
on Sunday, marking the second stage of a process to which Israel agreed when
negotiations with the Palestinians resumed at the end of July.
batch of terrorists who carried out attacks before the 1993 Oslo Accords is
expected in December or January, and another in March or April. All told, 106
terrorists are to go free by the conclusion of the ninemonth negotiations, at
the end of April.
Tuesday night’s prisoner release got the final go-ahead
after the High Court of Justice again rejected an appeal by the Almagor Terror
Victims Association against the move.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said
Tuesday that the painful move was guided by the government’s responsibility to
navigate according to “long-term security considerations.”
Speaking at a
ceremony saluting Beduin IDF soldiers, Ya’alon said he had spent the majority of
his adult life fighting Palestinian terrorists, and this was a difficult day for
In recent months, Israel has been faced with sensitive diplomatic
circumstances and heavy strategic choices, obligating it to take “difficult and
painful” steps, he said.
“This is not a black and white situation,” he
“Things are complex, obligating us to be responsible and prudent,
and also to see the long term. This is a difficult and painful day for all
Israeli citizens, especially for the families of the victims.”
said Israel would not give up its search for peace, and would continue to
conduct that search in a responsible and prudent manner, while preserving
Israel’s security assets.
“The experience of the past, where our hand
extended in peace remained hanging in the air unanswered, is causing us to look
at the current negotiations soberly and without illusions, requiring Israel to
act wisely in the face of heavy diplomatic and security challenges,” he
Earlier in the day, while touring near the Gaza border, the defense
minister played down the threat that the released prisoners would pose to
“Those we are releasing today are older prisoners who have served
the majority of their sentences and carried out their crimes before the Oslo
Accords,” he said. “The chances that they will return to their evil ways are
low, but we will still follow them to make sure they do not return to
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud Beytenu) spoke out
against the prisoner release, saying that “the photos of murderers being freed
tonight will be etched in the memories of the future generation of terrorists
who will fight to return to their villages as heroes, too.”
He added that
“terrorists should be addressed in codes of strength and power. Freeing
terrorists shows weakness.”
Lahav Harkov and Ben Hartman contributed to
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