The furor over the release of 26 Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons to facilitate the peace talks continued on Monday following publication of their names overnight.
The list confirmed that all of the prisoners were either convicted of murder or attempted murder of Israeli citizens, The Jerusalem Post reported.
They include: Damouni Saad Mohammed Ahmed, convicted of involvement in the brutal lynching of IDF reservist Amnon Pomerantz in Gaza in 1990; Massoud Issa Rajib Amer, of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. who sadistically murdered Ian Feinberg, a young lawyer active in promoting economic projects in Gaza; Tukeman Yusef Suleiman Mahmed, Abu Hanana Zakariya Udia Usama, and Abdel-Aziz Said Kassam Ahmed, who collaborated in the 1992 shooting death of Moshe Biton; Samarin Mustafa Kalib Asrar and Kra’an Azat Musa Musa, Fatah terrorists who abducted and murdered Israeli soldier Tzvi Klein in 1992; Abu-Dahila Hasan Atik Sharif, sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Avi Osher, his Israeli employer at the Jordan Valley farm he owned, in 1991; Gnimat Amar Mahmad Mustafa and Gnimat Mahmoud Mahmad Ziad, who murdered Meir Ben-Yair and Michal Cohen while they sat in a car in Judean foothills in 1985.
All are set to be freed Tuesday at midnight in the second phase of the agreed release of 104 prisoners.
The Netanyahu government found itself on the receiving end of a torrent of criticism from within its own coalition on Monday.
Prisoners released this week will commit more acts of terror, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud-Beiteinu) predicted.
“We stood for the principle of negotiations without preconditions before this process began, but this morning the names of arch-terrorists with blood on their hands were already publicized,” Edelstein said.
Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) said in a series of interviews that freeing the terrorists “doesn’t contribute to peace, and only leads to more terrorism.”
The Chairwoman of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee, MK Miri Regev (Likud), assailed the government’s decision, saying that Israel “releases terrorists and receives missile fire, murder and terror.”
Regev also criticized the Shin Bet for refusing to send a representative to her committee’s special session on the issue: “You cannot hide behind a mantle of secrecy and refrain from presenting the criteria according to which 26 terrorists, terrible murderers whom we intend to free, were selected,” she said.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had avoided comment on Sunday, felt pressed to say something in response, telling ministers at a meeting on Monday:
“The decision to release prisoners is one of the most difficult I have had to make as Prime Minister. I am sure that all other prime ministers who have made such decisions thought about them long and hard, as I did, because of the injustice of the whole thing, with convicted murderers being released before completing their terms. My sympathies are with the families of victims” who are seeing justice denied, the Prime Minister said.
Netanyahu added that the decision was “an inevitable one based on the reality we face. We are being forced to maneuver through a complicated international situation, with many challenges, that requires us to weigh many issues for the good of the state.”
Israel’s chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, hit back against the critics in an interview, saying that Jewish Home “doesn’t want negotiations. If they have another solution, let them tell us what it is.”
Arguing that concessions are necessary to keep the fragile talks with the Palestinians going, Livni added that “the situation is sensitive, vulnerable. We could have conflict even tomorrow morning in the negotiations room and it all can explode.”
Meanwhile, preparations to greet and honor the released terrorists on Tuesday night were being made, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expected to be on hand.
PA Prisoner Affairs Minister Issa Karaka expressed satisfaction on hearing the news.
“The second phase of the prisoner release is a great
achievment for the Palestinian leadership … because it represents an extra step toward the release of all the prisoners from the Israeli occupation’s jails,” Karaka stated.
During a visit to the families of prisoners set to be released in Nablus, Karaka said that “the Israeli concept of ‘life in prison’ has collapsed, because the prisoners who are set to be freed were sent, according to this concept, to be locked up behind bars for the rest of their lives.”
A large protest demonstration was organized for Monday evening, with busloads of participants expected from across the country.
The protest was held outside Ofer Prison, north of Yerushalayim, the departure point for the prisoners being released. The rally was organized by My Israel, the Almagor terror victims’ group and other organizations.