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Prisoners, settlements raise tensions ahead of Israeli-Palestinian talks

Israel has published the names of the Palestinian prisoners who are to be released as part of a US-brokered deal to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Germany's foreign minister is in the region ahead of the talks.

Israel's Prison Service posted the 26 prisoner names online on Monday to allow two days for possible court appeals. The prisoner release is part of a US-brokered deal to restart talks between Israel and Palestine. Peace negotiations are set to resume in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

About twenty of the prisoners were convicted of killing Israelis and the rest were found guilty of aiding and abetting murder. Most have already served 20 years. This is the first group out of 104 inmates Israel pledged to release.

In Palestinian communities, the prisoners are seen as heroes but many Israelis view them as terrorists.

Opponents of the release said Monday that they would appeal to the courts to stop their release. However, Israel's high court rarely intervenes in such cases.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had demanded the release of the prisoners as a condition for renewing talks with Israel, which had run aground in 2010 in a dispute over Jewish settlement building.

Meanwhile, Israel's housing ministry gave final approval on Sunday to build 1,187 homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, which angered Palestinians.

However, the lead negotiator for the Palestinians stopped short of threatening to pull out of the first peace talks with the Israelis. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza for a future state, all territory that Israel seized in the 1967 war. Until recently, they had refused to re-enter talks unless Israel agreed to freeze all settlement construction activity.

Also on Sunday, Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle began a visit to the region.

He told reporters that Germany intended to play a "constructive and supportive role" in the new round of peace negotiations. He added that the peace talks were in the interests not only of both parties, but also the region and the entire world.

hc/dr (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)