Relatives of Israelis killed in conflict have accused Benjamin Netanyahu's government of betraying them over a planned mass prisoner release, the first 26 of which have been officially approved, which they say could see their loved ones' murderers freed in exchange for peace talks.
10:37PM BST 11 Aug 2013
Amid scenes of bitter recrimination, family members of more than 20 victims spoke out before the special cabinet committee meeting on Sunday night that drew up a list of Palestinian inmates for release on Tuesday as a prelude to revived US-sponsored negotiations.
Some 26 prisoners will be freed in the first phase of a programme that will see the liberation of 104 long-term convicts incarcerated since before the 1993 Oslo Accords - including many said by Israel to have "blood on their hands".
The names of those to be released will be published on the Israel prison service's website early on Monday, "after the bereaved families will receive notice".
"Following the government decision to renew peace talks with the Palestinians and appoint a ministerial committee to free prisoners during negotiations ... the committee approved the release of 26 prisoners," a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office read.
Eight of the prisoners on the list were set to be freed in the forthcoming three years, two of them in the next six months.
The three ministers on the panel – Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet security agency – stressed that "if one of those released returned to hostile activities against Israel, he will be returned to complete his sentence."
Israel extracted a price for the release by approving nearly 1,200 new settler homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank in a move denounced by Palestinian negotiators as proof of Israeli bad faith in forthcoming talks due to start this week in Jerusalem.
Uri Ariel, the Israeli housing minister and a member of the hard-line Jewish Home party, said tenders would be issued for new homes in the east Jerusalem settlements of Har Homa, Gilo and Pisgat Zeev, and Ariel, Maale Adumim, Efrata and Beitar Ilit in the West Bank.
"No country in the world accepts diktats from other countries on where it is allowed to build or not," Mr Ariel said, referring to international criticism that settlements impede the chances of a peace deal.
Israeli media, citing official sources, said the latest moves were part of a quid pro-quo agreed with John Kerry, the US secretary of state, allowing Israel to continue limited building in main settlement blocs in return for releasing prisoners, a key Palestinian demand.
The deal angered relatives who gathered at Israel's high court of justice in Jerusalem on Sunday for a hearing on a petition against the prisoner release filed by the Almagor organisation, representing the bereaved families.
Oded Karamani, 40, said it would give freedom to the Palestinian who killed his brother Ronen and his friend, Lior Tubol, in a brutal knife attack in Ramot, near Jerusalem in 1990 as they were en route to visit their girlfriends.
"Lior was slaughtered, stabbed 24 times, just because he was Jewish," said Mr Karamani, holding a picture of his late brother. "The killer did this because he wanted to join Fatah [the Palestinian organisation led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president].
"There's a strong possibility he will be one of the 104 prisoners to be released because the crime happened before Oslo.
"We feel betrayed by our country. Nobody's listening to our voices to understand what's in our hearts. We're getting nothing in return for this prisoner release. There's a sentence in Hebrew which says that he who feels sorry for the cruel will be cruel to the innocent. It applies here."
Rachel Friedman, the daughter of two survivors of Auschwitz, said she feared the release of the man who planned the bombing of a Jerusalem pizza parlour which killed her sister, her husband and their three children in 2001.
"That man had been jailed in 1989 but was released in a goodwill gesture," she said. "When they freed him he returned to terror and now he's back in jail. But now they want to release him again."
The families had marched in protest to the high court from a memorial to the victims of terrorism at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl cemetery. Some plan to stage a further demonstration outside the Israeli defence ministry on Monday.