Palestinian joy as 26 prisoners are freed by Israel

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has led a triumphant homecoming for the latest Palestinian prisoners to be freed by Israel as part of the US-sponsored Middle East peace effort.

Some 26 inmates were released in this third batch – 18 returning to the West Bank and the rest rejoining their families in Gaza and East Jerusalem.

After greeting ex-inmates at his headquarters in Ramallah, Abbas pledged more of the same. He said: “We will not sign a final peace deal with Israel before all the prisoners are released.”

While Palestinians rejoiced for the men, many of whom were serving long terms for murder, their liberation prompted protests by relatives of Israeli victims.

But the prisoners’ own families are euphoric.

“I’m so happy today,” said Jamila Salman at Bet Lahiya in the Gaza Strip. “I did not see my husband for 22 years. This is the best day of my life, a great joy.”

Convicted of killing an Israeli soldier, Mahmoud Salman spared a thought for those still imprisoned by Israel.

“I can’t describe how I feel,” he said. “I feel great but it is still hard because we left prisoners behind, especially the sick and others serving life sentences.”

Israel’s plans to build 1,400 new homes for settlers in the West Bank are more problematic for peace.

Palestinians say such settlement building could jeopardise talks, giving US Secretary of State John Kerry plenty to think about as he visits the region this week.