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Reluctant Israel open to UN rights review

Israel has dropped its refusal and says it will attend a United Nations Human Rights Council review of its human rights record in Geneva on Tuesday. The newspaper Haaretz says Germany had urged Israel to take part.

Israel's foreign ministry said late Sunday that the Jewish state would take part in a review of its practices at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In January, Israel had begun a boycott, accusing the council of bias toward Palestinians.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told the German news agency DPA that a "decision had been taken to appear at the Human Rights Council."

The newspaper Haaretz said Israel had challenged the council's frequent vetting of the Jewish state's human rights record but had been swayed to attend the review by a letter from German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

The left-wing daily said Westerwelle's letter had been sent to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The 47-member council periodically reviews UN member states. The review of Israel, which faces widespread criticism for settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, is due on Tuesday.

Second prisoner release due

Late on Sunday, Netanyahu's government approved the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners, subject to a 48-hour appeal process open to the Israeli public.

A first batch of Palestinian prisoners was released in August after the resumption of US-brokered talks.

Netanyahu's office said all 26 had committed offenses before the signing of the so-called 1993 Oslo accords, which granted the Palestinians limited self-rule but not full independence.

Those being freed – 21 from the West Bank and 5 from the Gaza Strip – have served 19-28 years in prison.

Objections within cabinet

One of Netanyahu's far-right cabinet allies, Housing Minister Uri Ariel, objected to the planned releases, saying they would only lead to "more terrorism."

The direct US-brokered Palestinian-Israeli talks resumed in July after a hiatus of nearly three years. They broke down in 2010 with Netanyahu refusing to extend a moratorium on settlement.

Chief Israel negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, responded to objections by Ariel's pro-settler Jewish Home party: "If they have another solution, let them tell us what it is."

The Western-backed Palestinian Authority has long demanded releases among the 5,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

ipj/tj (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)