Israel goes ahead with second round of Palestinian prisoner release

Defense Minister Ya'alon says this was a difficult day for him, but move to release prisoners guided by "long-term security considerations"; says chances released prisoners will return to terror are low.

palestinians celebrate prisoner release 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
palestinians celebrate prisoner release 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 crossing.
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.
A third 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 him.
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 stated.
“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.”
Ya’alon 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 said.
Earlier in the day, while touring near the Gaza border, the defense minister played down the threat that the released prisoners would pose to Israel.
“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 terrorism.”
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 this report.