Israel to free Palestinians, build more settlements
Israel will announce plans for new settlement construction next week, coinciding with the release of a third batch of Palestinian prisoners as part of peace talks, an official said yesterday.
Palestinians have warned repeatedly that settlement building destroys the fragile US-brokered peace talks that resumed in July after a three-year hiatus.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed to push ahead with settlement construction despite calls for restraint by US Secretary of State John Kerry and the European Union.
Kerry, who has been fighting for the survival of the peace talks, urged Netanyahu earlier this month "to exercise maximum restraint in announcing new construction" Haaretz daily has reported.
Israel is due to release 26 Palestinian prisoners on Sunday, in line with commitments to the US-backed peace process which also called on both sides to negotiate for nine months.
Israel agreed to free 104 Palestinian prisoners and has already released 52 in two separate batches. A third group is to be freed on December 29 and the last inmates are to walk free in March 2014.
Maariv daily quoted an unnamed top official as saying Netanyahu had initially agreed to US and EU appeals to delay by two to three weeks the announcement of the new constructions, but changed his mind under pressure from his coalition partners so as not to send out a "signal of weakness".