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Middle East

Prisoners' release sparks Israeli despair

Over 2,000 Israeli protesters gathered outside Ofer prison in the West Bank on Monday to voice their indignation at the government's decision to release more Palestinian prisoners.

The group of 2,500 Israeli protesters had gathered outside Ofer prison in the West Bank near Ramallah to oppose the release of 26 Palestinian security prisoners and to reject a peace deal between Palestine and Israel brokered on the premise of prisoner releases.

In total the Israeli government has agreed to the release of 104 prisoners - the third phase is due on December 29, and the final batch on March 29 next year. Israel's Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu had pledged earlier this year to free Palestinian prisoners who were charged and imprisoned offended prior to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. All of the prisoners were serving prison sentences of between 19 and 28 years.

Blood on their hands

Dozens of family members of lsraeli terror victims were among the protesters who made their anger and sadness known at Ofer prison. They held up posters with red-colored handprints indicating bloodshed, while holding pictures of family members who had been killed.

In 1993, Dr. Gila Molcho's brother, Ian Feinberg, was killed by Omar Issa Masoud, a guard at a building he was working in for the European Union.Two other men were also convicted for his killing. Feinberg worked for the European Union as an attorney and consultant in a project to build factories in Gaza to generate economic development by bringing in foreign investors to Gaza.

Masoud is among those to be released Tuesday night, the other men convicted of Feinberg's murder had already been released - one of them was one of the 1,000 prisoners let out in a deal to release Israeli soldier Gilat Shalit while the second was released in the first round of prisoners released this year in August as part of the fresh peace talks.

Gila Molcho holds back tears as she remembers her brother who was killed by a Palestinian. Israelis protestieren gegen die Freilassung palästinensischer Gefangener Copyright: Kate Suttleworth, DW Mitarbeiterin, Jerusalem, Oct. 2013 via: DW/Robert Mudge

Gila Molcho holds back tears as she remembers her dead brother

In tears, Molcho told DW it was unfair for her family to be “treated like this." "This is the third time that my family has had to go through the terrible experience. It cannot be that Israeli and Jewish blood be sold as a gesture - we are not a gesture - there is no peace process at the moment."

"My brother was a very special man, he believed in justice and he believed in the good of people - so I have to believe that justice will be served and that my government will wake up and understand that we're sending a terrible message to our own youth that their blood is no longer sacred and it tells the Palestinians that they can kill us and they will be let out as a gesture. I can't live with that injustice," said Molcho.

Another peace

Israeli mother Robin Damelin was not at the protests at Ofer Prison - her son David was also killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2002. However, Damelin said she believes the release of Palestinian prisoners is the right move toward peace.

"For the greater good it's what we have to do - no revenge will bring back our loved ones. I believe reconciliation is the only way forward." In an effort to promote peace between the two sides, Damlin closed her successful public relations business to devote her time to an organization called the Parents Circle - where Palestinians and Israelis who have lost loves ones meet together.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said the decision to release the prisoners had not been easy. "It is not easy for the ministers. It is not easy especially for the bereaved families whose heart I understand. But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the country and this is one of those moments."

The US-brokered Palestinian-Israeli talks resumed in July this year, having been on hold for nearly three years. They broke down in 2010 when Netanyahu refused to extend a moratorium on settlements.

Ofer Prison protest Israelis protestieren gegen die Freilassung palästinensischer Gefangener Copyright: Kate Suttleworth, DW Mitarbeiterin, Jerusalem, Oct. 2013 via: DW/Robert Mudge

Protesters accuse the government of having blood on its hands

However there are signs of growing dissent within government ranks. Government Minister Uri Ariel and other members of the Jewish Home party joined the demonstration in defiance of the prime minister. Ariel told protesters at Ofer Prison that he objected to the planned releases saying they were amoral.

But that didn't put a dampener on Palestinian spirits: Immediately after the list of prisoners was released on Sunday night, impromptu celebrations started in a refugee camp near Bethlehem.

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