Jerusalem: Israel has approved the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners under agreed confidence building measures that helped kickstart peace talks following a fiery debate that saw the cracks in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition coming out in the open.
A ministerial committee headed by Netanyahu, who had earlier on Sunday emphasised that "promises must be kept", approved the list of Palestinian prisoners to be released in the second of a four-stage process by which 104 Palestinian prisoners will be released.
Similar number of prisoners were released In the first stage on August 26. The whole process is set to be completed by March of next year by when all the 104 prisoners would be released.
A 48-hour objection period during which Israelis can appeal to the court against the release of the prisoners must pass before they can be freed and sent to the Palestinian territories.
Bereaved families that have been at the receiving end of the prisoners' activities will be notified of the decision before Israel's Prison Service posts their names on its website.
All those to be released have been jailed for their involvement in terror attacks against Israelis before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Five of the prisoners to be released will head to Gaza and 21 to the West Bank.
They have all served sentences ranging from 19 to 28 years. Earlier yesterday, a bill sponsored by the Bayit Yehudi Party to ban future Palestinian prisoners release failed to pass the Legislative Ministerial Committee by an eight-to-five vote.
"It was made clear once again today that this government, as opposed to one of its member parties, is acting out of the nation's interest and not that of cynical partisan interests or according to the instructions of [settler] rabbis," Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is heading the Israeli side in negotiations with the Palestinians, said at the decision.
"This government is advancing a diplomatic process, that is in Israel's national and security interests.
The responsibility to act in accordance with these interests as well as the shared responsibility for decisions that were taken [by the government], is incumbent on every member of the government, even those who in retrospect are trying to shirk from them," Livni said.
However, Netanyahu's coalition partner, Bayit Hayehudi, which sponsored the bill made scathing remarks against the Justice minister and expressed its continued opposition to prisoners' release.
"It was shameful that ministers opposed the legislation. In the Bayit Yehudi, we oppose and will continue to oppose the release of prisoners," Housing and Construction Minister, Uri Ariel, said.
The Bayit Yehudi Party plans to appeal the vote.
The agreement to free the 104 Palestinian prisoners jailed for almost two decades or more for their connection to terror attacks against Israelis helped create the climate for the renewed nine month negotiation process which began at the end of July under US mediation.