As Israel released 26 terrorists who murdered Israelis on Monday night, the United States was quick to welcome the decision, AFP reported.
Secretary of State John Kerry "expresses his appreciation for Prime Minister (Binyamin) Netanyahu's decision to release the third tranche of prisoners," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf was quoted by the news agency as having said.
"The Israeli government's commitment to release Palestinian prisoners helped enable the start... and the continuation of the final status negotiations, and we believe this is a positive step forward in the overall process," she added.
The 26 terrorists, among them one who was convicted of the murders of 16 Israelis, were freed around 1:45 a.m. local time. 18 of them were returned to their homes in the Palestinian Authority-assigned areas of Judea and Samaria, three were transferred to Gaza, and the remaining five to eastern Jerusalem.
"Two vans carrying (18) prisoners left Ofer prison and were headed to Ramallah", a PA official confirmed to AFP.
The release was made possible after the Supreme Court rejected a last minute petition filed by activists and families whose loved ones were killed in the terror attacks perpetrated by the prisoners set to be released.
As in previous appeals before terrorist releases, the Court said that “there is no cause for us to intervene in such processes, as they are political decisions.” The appeal also asked the Court to consider the fact that five of the terrorists were to be released to their homes in Jerusalem, but said that this was not sufficient grounds to prevent the releases.
In her remarks Monday, Harf also referred to Kerry’s planned trip to the region this week. During his talks with Netanyahu and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the top diplomat will "discuss with both leaders the proposed framework for negotiations," she said.
Harf said the framework would "serve as guidelines for the permanent status negotiation and would address all the core issues."
She refused, however, to be drawn on reports that Israel was expected to accompany the releases with the announcement of new construction plans for homes in Judea and Samaria. These reports have angered PA officials who accused Israel of “killing the peace process.”
The aim of the proposed framework was to help shape negotiations in the coming months as they work towards a full peace deal, Harf said, according to AFP.
"If you start with nothing and you know all the issues are on the table, it makes sense to put some guidelines around the discussions of each of the final status issues to drive the process forward," she told reporters.
She refused to go into details, other than to say it included all so-called core issues. These include the borders of a future Palestinian state, the fate of Jerusalem, the so-called “right of return”, security and the fate of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
Both sides agreed when the talks resumed in July after a three-year freeze that they would continue negotiating for the next nine months, and Harf said Kerry was still aiming for a final peace deal by that deadline.
"We know it's a complicated process, but we're still operating under that nine-month time frame," she added.
Meanwhile on Monday, an Israeli official said that Kerry had “deceived” Israel with regards to the release of terrorists.
The official said that while Netanyahu had made it clear to Kerry that Israel would refuse to release Israeli Arabs as part of the four batches of terrorists it agreed to release, Kerry would not inform Abbas of that position and instead tried to convince Netanyahu to change his mind.