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Israel To Free 26 Palestinians, Expand Settlements

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Palestinians were "determined" to give the latest peace effort "every chance it deserves."
An Israeli ministerial committee has approved the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners under a deal meant to pave the way for a resumption of U.S.-brokered peace talks.

The prisoners would be the first of four groups totaling 104 that Israel agreed to release last month.

The remaining 78 Palestinian prisoners would be released during the next nine months if the peace talks continue.

Israel’s government on August 11 also approved the construction of more than 1,000 new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The decisions came before a round of Israeli-Palestinian talks scheduled to start on August 14 in Israel and the West Bank.

Talks broke down in 2010 over the issue of Jewish settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land.

Israel's Housing Ministry said the latest plans call for 1,187 new apartments to be built.

Of those, nearly 800 would be built in East Jerusalem. About 400 would be within several large Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Palestinian officials expressed anger about Israel's decision to allow construction of more homes for Jewish settlers in occupied Palestinian territory.

They have long insisted there would be no talks without a freeze on Jewish settlement construction in Palestinian territory.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said Israel's latest settlement expansion plans are aimed at undermining the peace talks.

But he said Palestinians were "determined" to give the latest peace effort "every chance it deserves."

More than 500,000 Israelis live in dozens of settlements built by Israel on land it captured in the 1967 Middle East War.

Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal.

Palestinians want the land as part of a future state they hope to establish in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon chaired the August 11 meetings while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is recovering from hernia surgery.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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