Jerusalem • The Israeli government agreed Sunday to release 104 Palestinian prisoners over the next nine months as a gesture to lure Palestinian leaders back to the negotiating table.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deal, while painful for relatives of those killed in terrorist attacks, was vital to Israel’s security and stability.
After a long debate Sunday, he won 13 votes from his 22-member Cabinet. Seven members were opposed and two abstained.
Netanyahu faced considerable pressure from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is hoping to renew talks in Washington on Tuesday between representatives of the two sides.
Protesters outside the prime minister’s office criticized the decision, saying it will reward terrorists and free criminals with "blood on their hands."
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who voted in favor of the release, said that prisoners will be set free only as long as negotiations proceed in good faith.
Prisoners are likely to be released in four stages, beginning next month and ending early next year.
Earlier Sunday, the Cabinet approved a draft bill, aimed at appeasing right-wing lawmakers, that would require that any peace deal with the Palestinians be approved in a referendum. It now goes to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.
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