Israel’s Supreme Court rejects petition against Palestinian prisoner release

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Supreme Court rejected a petition against the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners, filed by the families of their victims.

Supreme Court President Asher Grunis late on Tuesday morning issued a statement rejecting the petition.

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“There is no dispute that the issue at hand is difficult and sensitive. Our hearts go out to the families of the terror victims,” he said in the statement. “But we are certain that the authorized officials made their decision with a heavy heart, taking the families’ position into account.”

The petition, filed by the Almagor Terror Victims Association on behalf of some of the families as well as by some individual families, said that the decision to release the prisoners should made by the entire Knesset through legislation and not by a small group of government ministers. The court rejected the argument and said that the release of prisoners did not require legislation.

The government of Israel agreed to release the prisoners in order to bring the Palestinians back to the peace negotiating table.

The prisoners to be released were transferred late on Monday to the Ayalon Prison in Ramle, where they were to be processed for release. They are scheduled to be released no earlier than midnight on Tuesday and more likely early on Wednesday morning.

Some 14 prisoners will be transferred to Gaza, several of whom are members of Hamas. Eight prisoners on the list were due to be released in the next three years and two in the next six months. Twenty-one of the prisoners on the list were convicted of killing Israelis or Palestinians accused of being collaborators, and most had served at least 20 years.

Eventually 104 prisoners jailed before the 1993 Oslo Accords will be released in phases over the next eight months, pending progress in the talks.

The peace talks are scheduled to resume Wednesday in Jerusalem following a three-year freeze, but the Palestinians have threatened to skip the meeting in protest over the order in which the prisoners are being released and over the announcement this week of new construction in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, according to reports.