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Israel releases 26 Palestinian prisoners

From Ian Lee, CNN
December 31, 2013 -- Updated 0252 GMT (1052 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The release comes ahead of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
  • The move was aimed at "resuming the diplomatic process"
  • Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas greeted many of the freed prisoners personally

Ramallah, West Bank (CNN) -- Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners Monday in a gesture of goodwill between the two sides, days before a visit to the region by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

The release was a step aimed at "resuming the diplomatic process," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement Saturday announcing the move.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas greeted 18 of the freed prisoners in Ramallah, West Bank.

The prisoners "perpetrated offenses prior to the Oslo accords and have served sentences of 19-28 years," Netanyahu's office statement said.

Kerry travels to Jerusalem and Ramallah on Wednesday in his ongoing attempt to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Monday's release was part of a pledge made by Israel at the start of the talks last summer.

The two sides are four months into a nine-month deadline set by Kerry to reach a peace deal, with little visible progress.

Kerry will meet with both Abbas and Netanyahu during his trip -- his ninth visit to the region.

CNN's Elise Labott and Neda Farshbaf contributed to this report.

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