Oct. 30 - Israel frees 26 Palestinian prisoners, the second stage of a limited amnesty designed to help U.S.-sponsored peace talks that have been dogged by divisions on both sides. Sarah Toms reports.
Hundreds of relatives and well-wishers had been waiting for hours at the Erez Crossing with the Gaza Strip for a glimpse of the freed prisoners....and finally at midnight they were rewarded. Five prisoners were released here in Gaza and another 21 were sent to the West Bank. It is the second of four batches of 26 Palestinians prisoners to be released. It's part of a deal to help U.S. sponsored peace talks after deep divisions on both sides. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed a large crowd, denying the deal had been made on the understanding that Israel could continue building settlements. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS, SAYING: "Some non-nationalists spread rumours that we made this agreement instead of a settlements freeze. This is wrong, the settlements are void, void and void." The freed men were all convicted of murdering Israelis, spending between 19 and 28 years in prison. But as they were driven from jail they received heroes welcomes. Many Palestinians view them as political prisoners and freedom fighters. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) FREED PRISONER MUSA KARAN, SAYING: "Thank God, though I am released but I feel sad because there are still prisoners inside jails. I hope they will be released." The decision, though, has been hugely unpopular with an Israeli public, that has little faith the peace talks will succeed. There have been large protests in Israel in recent days, with Jewish demonstrators painting their hands blood red, demanding that Israeli prisoners convicted for attacks against Palestinians also be freed.