JERUSALEM — Israel will release some "hardcore" Palestinian prisoners as part of the new breakthrough by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in efforts to restart Mideast talks, a senior Israeli official said Saturday.
The remarks by Yuval Steinitz were the first Israeli comment detailing the terms for the negotiations since Kerry on Friday night announced that the two sides will meet soon in Washington to formalize an agreement on relaunching peace talks that collapsed in 2008.
Kerry's announcement came after last-minute meetings with Palestinian officials at the end of a day in which he shuttled between the Jordanian capital and the West Bank. In Amman, Kerry said Israel and the Palestinians had agreed on a basis for returning to negotiations, five years after talks broke down.
Steinitz's remarks on Saturday were all the more surprising because Kerry insisted that the agreement is still in the process of being formalized, "so we are absolutely not going to talk about any of the elements now."
Steinitz, Israel's intelligence and strategic affairs minister, told Israel Radio on Saturday that "there will be hardcore prisoners (released) ... those that have been sitting in jail for dozens of years."
In Israeli parlance, term "hardcore" refers to prisoners implicated in deadly attacks. Their release has been a long-standing Palestinian demand. Steinitz didn't say how many would be released, adding only that they would be freed in phases.
But, Steinitz said, other Palestinian demands will not be met, such as a freeze on settlement building and defining the 1967 lines as borders ahead of the negotiations.