Israel on Monday published the names of 26 Palestinian prisoners, most of them jailed for killings and deadly attacks, who are to be released this week as part of a U.S.-brokered deal that led to a resumption of Mideast negotiations.
Israelis and Palestinians are to launch talks in Jerusalem on Wednesday, following a preparatory round two weeks ago in Washington. The prisoner release is part of an agreement to restart the talks after a five-year freeze.
Israel's Prison Service posted the names of 26 prisoners online early on Monday to allow two days for possible court appeals.
Twenty-one in the group were convicted of killings, including of Israelis and suspected Palestinian collaborators, while others were involved in attempted murder or kidnapping.
Half the prisoners on the list had no given release date, meaning they were serving full life terms, while others would have been released in a few years without the special deal. Most have already served around 20 years, with the longest-held arrested in 1985.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians have spent time in Israeli prisons on security charges since Israel's capture of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in 1967.
Most Palestinians view prisoners as heroes, regardless of their acts, arguing they made personal sacrifices in the struggle for independence.
Many Israelis view those involved in killings as terrorists for killing civilians.
Among the victims of the prisoners slated for release are an Israeli lawyer stabbed to death in a European aid office in Gaza in 1993 and an American, Frederick Steven Rosenfeld, who was stabbed to death while hiking in the West Bank in 1989
It is a "sad day for bereaved families and for Israeli society," said Meir Indor, who heads a group of victims' families.
In all, 104 long-held prisoners are to be released in four stages over the course of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, envisioned to go on for about nine months.
Kadoura Fares, who heads a prisoners' advocacy group, said he was disappointed some of the longest-held among the 104 weren't on the list.
The U.S. envisions an agreement within nine months on the terms of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, including drawing a border, agreeing on security arrangements and deciding the fate of Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinians want a state to include the territories Israel captured in 1967.
The diplomatic paralysis of the last five years was largely due to disputes over the construction of Israeli settlements in areas the Palestinians want for a future state.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has long insisted he will only resume talks if Israel freezes construction. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a freeze.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry eventually brokered the resumption of negotiations, and Abbas dropped a settlement freeze as a condition for talks.
In exchange, Kerry won Israeli agreement that it will release 104 Palestinian prisoners.
The upcoming release drew anger from relatives of those killed by the prisoners.
"These are not political prisoners they are terrorists and murderers who will be returning home to a hero's welcome, said Gila Molcho, whose brother, lawyer Ian Feinberg, was stabbed in the European aid office in Gaza 20 years ago.
"They will be celebrating the killers of our brothers and children," she told Israeli Channel 2 TV.