Israel is set to release on Tuesday another 26 convicted terrorists from prison in a bid to keep stagnating Middle East peace talks moving forward, Israeli prison authorities announced early Monday.
This brings the total number of convicted murderers freed this year by the Jewish state to 52. Another group of terrorists are scheduled to be released in December.
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The United States first pushed Israel to release 104 convicted Palestinian terrorists in August as a sign of goodwill in the peace process.
The latest prisoner release is taking place as Palestinian terror attacks against Israel rise, leading some to warn that the deal is encouraging new waves of violence.
All 26 Palestinians slated to be freed Tuesday have been convicted of murder and carrying out terrorist operations. One of the soon-to-be-released terrorists hacked a Holocaust survivor to death with an ax, while another lynched and burned an Israeli soldier.
Israeli opponents of the prisoner release claim they are being blackmailed by the United States and Palestinians, who they accuse of forcing Israel to accept a one-sided deal.
"The U.S. Secretary of State [John] Kerry, he started this ordeal by actually forcing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into negotiations with the Palestinians, but instead of insisting that it will be negotiations without preconditions, or a negotiation towards peace, Kerry forced Israel to accept some preconditions" such as the prisoner release, said Yossi Zur, a member of the group Bereaved Families for Peace and Justice.
Zur and other families that have been victims of Palestinian terror attacks are scheduled to protest tonight outside of the Jerusalem prison where the terrorists will be brought before their release.
More than a thousand people will gather at the prison and form a "human chain" around the facility, according to Zur.
The bereaved families will petition Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday in a last minute bid to block the release, Zur said.
"The release of terrorists who were convicted in a court of law—people who murdered innocent people, civilians, women, children, and old people—their place is prison and they shouldn’t be released," Zur said.
Releasing convicted murderers in exchange for very little in return only "encourages terrorism and hurts the security of the people," Zur said.
"Only in the last few weeks a large wave of terror attacks have been happening," he said. "We strongly believe the motivation those terrorists get to do this type of stuff comes from the frequent release of convicted terrorists."
The United States would never agree to a similar deal, Zur said.
"Here we are being pressured by the secretary of state to do things that the U.S. would not do or consider," he said. "It simply is wrong."
Kerry declined to meet with the bereaved families group when he was in the region, claiming "he is too busy," according to Zur.
"[The U.S. administration] tried to avoid this whole thing," Zur said.
All 26 of those slated to be released from prison this week have been convicted of brutally murdering Israelis.
Damouni Saad Mahmed Ahmed, for instance, was sentenced to life in prison for lynching and burning an Israeli soldier.
Shabir Kassem Hazam, also slated for release on Tuesday, has been serving a life term for brutally killing an elderly Holocaust survivor with an ax.
Massalha Awad Mohammed Yusuf, who was sentenced to serve two life terms, savagely beat and asphyxiated a Jewish shop owner. He too is slated for release on Tuesday.
"It’s pretty consistent; these people were involved in murders," said Tamar Sternthal, director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America’s Israel office.
However, Western media outlets generally "have downplayed their crimes," even billing the terrorists as "Palestinian political prisoners," Sternthal said.
"They’re all involved in very violent crimes," she said. "Journalists have a responsibility to accurately report what these people were in for."