As the 11 terrorists who were freed to Ramallah arrived at their destination, they were welcomed by thousands of cheering PA Arabs and were escorted to the Muqataa compound, where they were greeted by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas himself.
"This is the first group," Abbas told the crowd at the official welcoming ceremony, according to AFP.
"We shall continue until we free all the prisoners from Israeli jails," he added.
“Allah willing, all will return to us soon. We say to all prisoners in the jails: We will not rest until you are all with us," Abbas declared.
At the same time, 15 other terrorists returned to their homes in Gaza. Kol Yisrael radio reported that the celebrations in Gaza will be toned down, if any take place at all, as the Hamas terrorist group which controls the region objects to the peace talks between the PA and Israel.
Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar said on Monday that the talks with Israel are “futile” and are “purely a means for the occupation (Israel) to look good to the international community.”
The 26 terrorists who were released on Tuesday are the first group out of 104 terrorists that Israel agreed to release as a gesture to Abbas, in exchange for him resuming peace talks.
Negotiators on behalf of both sides are scheduled to meet in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
On Tuesday the Maariv daily newspaper reported that the ministers on the committee that voted to release the 26 terrorists ignored recommendations from the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service.
The Shin Bet had provided a list of 40 terrorists from which the ministers were to choose the terrorists they wished to release. The list was compiled with the goal of avoiding freeing terrorists who would pose a particularly high threat to Israelis.
However, the committee led by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon reportedly decided to replace some names on the list it was given by the Shin Bet with other terrorists’ names, due to “Israel’s wish to strengthen the status of” Abbas.