Dec. 31 - Israel frees 26 Palestinian prisoners in the third stage of a move brokered during U.S.-led peace talks held in July. Sarah Toms reports.
Hundreds of relatives and well wishers had been waiting for hours for a glimpse of the 26 freed prisoners...and finally late at night they were rewarded. Eight men were driven to checkpoints leading into Gaza and East Jerusalem. The other 18 prisoners headed to Ramallah in the West Bank. Israeli border police fired stun grenades to dispel the cheering crowds. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hailed the men as heroes. But made no mention of Israel's plans to build a new settlement in the occupied territory Palestinians seek for a state. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS, SAYING: "This day is a happy day for all of us, for our people, for our families, and for our hero prisoners who were freed today to live free. They were also free in the prisons." The freed men were all convicted of murdering Israelis, serving between 19 and 28 years in prison. It's the third tranche of a total of 104 Palestinian prisoners to be freed as part of a deal to help U.S. sponsored peace talks after deep divisions between the Palestinians and Israelis. The decision though is hugely unpopular with an Israeli public. SOUNDBITE) (English) ISRAELI DEMONSTRATOR, YONAH, SAYING: "Releasing terrorists in the name of peace, is like pouring benzene on a fire in order to put the fire out. It's going to explode in your face, it's not gonna accomplish anything. A leader who needs to demand terrorist released for him to come to a negotiating table is inherently and definitively supporting terror." And though the wheels of the process continues to turn there is little faith on either side that the peace talks will succeed.