A senior Palestinian official welcomed the 21 released prisoners by Israel to the West Bank in the early hours of Wednesday, vowing that the PLO would never sign a peace accord with Israel until it secured the freedom of every Palestinian inmate.
"An agreement will never be signed without freeing all prisoners," Palestinian news agency Ma'an quoted Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Minister Issa Qaraqe as saying.
"We congratulate and greet our brothers who arrived from behind bars to the world of freedom. We welcome them and congratulate ourselves for this great reunion. We affirm that we had said 'let them return to their homes and not anywhere else,'" Qaraqe said in a speech introducing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a ceremony for the freed prisoners in Ramallah.
The release Wednesday marked the second of four stages of a deal between Israel and the PA for resuming peace talks in July. Israel was expected to release the third batch of prisoners in December or January, and another in March or April.
"Today is the second joy, and in two months, there is a third, a fourth and a fifth until jails are cleared and they all come back," Qaraqe said, adding that "our joy remains incomplete until all prisoners are freed."