Release expected to take place within 48 hours, likely on Monday night • Unconfirmed report surfaces that U.S. might consider freeing Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in connection with fourth prisoner release installment.
Shlomo Cesana, Edna Adato, Lilach Shoval, Efrat Forsher and Israel Hayom Staff
Bereaved families protest the prisoner release in Jerusalem
Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel
Construction in east Jerusalem
Photo credit: Reuters
Imprisoned Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard
Photo credit: AP
The list of the 26 Palestinian prisoners to be freed in the third prisoner release installment was published on the Israel Prison Services website late Saturday night. The release is expected to take place within 48 hours, likely on Monday night.
The government released a statement saying that in accordance with July's decision to renew negotiations with the Palestinians, "the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners has been approved." The 26 will be joining 52 prisoners freed in the first two stages.
The prisoners to be released are nearly all convicted of murdering Israeli civilians, soldiers or Palestinian collaborators. They have all served between 19 and 28 years of their terms. Among the murderers being released are Muammar Ata Mahmoud Mahmoud and Salah Khalil Ahmad Ibrahim, convicted of stabbing to death Menahem Stern, a history professor at Hebrew University and winner of the prestigious Israel Prize.
On Friday, Channel 1 reported that officials in Israel are claiming that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has agreed to look into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's request to free convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard as part of the fourth stage of the prisoner release, in which Israel is supposed to release Israeli Arab prisoners. According to the report, officials in Israel believe the chances the U.S. will agree to release Pollard are very slim. There is also still disagreement within the Israeli government over the release of Israeli Arab prisoners.
Regarding speculation about Pollard's potential release, an Israeli official said: "We are not aware of this report and we do not know if it is reliable. Unfortunately, we do know that many times in the past, hope for his release has been used in order to stifle criticism of widely unpopular proceedings in Israel. We wish to mention the words of many American officials, who have stated that after 29 years, Pollard's release is the just and humanitarian to do, independent of other circumstances."
Officially, the Prime Minister's Office and all other relevant government offices have not acknowledged the report or commented on it. The White House also recently clarified that there has been no change in U.S. policy on Pollard and there are no plans to free him.
"We know the Pollard issue is a sensitive one, but I don't think the two issues are related," U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told Army Radio on Sunday. "Obviously, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama have discussed the matter in the past, and it stands to reason that they discuss it in the present and will do so in the future, but the Pollard case is a legal case in the U.S. and it is a separate matter from the issue of the [Palestinian] prisoner release," he said.
'How will it help the families?'
"They are going to release the third installment of prisoners now, and I am also torn to pieces by this whole matter," said Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, a former Shin Bet chief, on Sunday. "I myself arrested about 95 percent of those who will be freed and I know these villains. But an orderly state that signs an agreement must respect it."
Concurrent to the release of prisoners, Israel is expected to declare the construction of 1,400 new housing units in the settlement blocs and Jerusalem.
Peri stated that tying in settlement construction with the prisoner release is "a mistaken process that harms bereaved families. Will the bereaved families be consoled by the fact that we're going to build a thousand more [housing] units?"
Some 30 people arrived on Saturday to a bereaved families protest outside the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, continuing the struggle against the upcoming prisoner release. The protestors joined the protest tent erected by Ortal Tamam, the 25-year-old niece of soldier Moshe Tamam who was kidnapped and murdered in 1994, and whose Israeli Arab murderer is expected to be released in the fourth installment.
The demonstrators carried signs with slogans including, "Shame on you, only in Israel do they release murderers." Some of those present carried photographs of their loved ones killed in terror attacks. Among the protesters was the daughter of Israel Prize recipient Stern, who was murdered in Jerusalem in 1989 and whose murderer is set to be released in the current stage. The protestors played memorial videos and lit candles for their loved ones and other victims of terror.
A ministerial legislation committee was set to debate on Sunday a bill proposed by MK Miri Regev (Likud), calling to apply Israeli law to all Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley. The bill's explanatory section says that in the event of the creation of a Palestinian state, "Israel will be relieved of the responsibility for Palestinian communities in the area, but will not abandon the communities with a Jewish majority in the Jordan Valley."
Meanwhile, the defense, justice and interior ministers decided that from now on, those who act illegally in Judea and Samaria will be subject to criminal trial. The decision will be enforced by special units in the civil administration.