JERUSALEM, Israel -- In a move intended to promote peace talks with the Palestinians, Israel released 26 terrorists from prison overnight. But some say it only encourages more terrorism.
The mood in Palestinian areas was triumphant. All of the terrorists had been given life sentences for the kidnap, ambush, and murder of Israeli soldiers and civilians or for executing other Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel. Now they're free.
"We are doing it because we understand the importance of trying to get the peace process with the Palestinians back on track," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said. "I can only hope that the Palestinian leadership will also finally be ready to make its own tough choices so we can move peace forward."
This was the second in a series of four releases -- part of an Israeli goodwill gesture to the Palestinians. But Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said it's a mistake.
"I don't think we should pay a price to sit in a room with [P.A. official] Saeb Erekat," Danon told reporters on Wednesday. "If we want to negotiate, we negotiate here [or] in Ramallah [or] in New York, [but] we shouldn't pay a price for it."
Danon said he also believes the prisoner release is morally wrong.
"…murder someone and went to court and the court decided he will sit in jail. He should sit in jail and actually saying, well that's too much…it's a moral mistake, it's sending a bad message," Danon said.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called it a happy moment and said there would be more.
In a 2005 television interview, Abbas said clearly the Palestinian leadership dispatched the terrorists to carry out their attacks.
Dannon said Abbas' calling for their release doesn't bode well.
"The fact that the first request of Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] is to release people who kills Jews, we should be worried about it," Dannon warned.
Thousands of Israelis demonstrated against the release outside the prison before it took place. Others took their cases to the Supreme Court but to no avail. They say it's unjust and past experience shows that many terrorists return to terror.
"By releasing terrorists, you glorify the terrorists," said Meir Indor, head of Almagor, the terror victims association. "It is showing there is no punishment, there is no system of justice, and as families who lost their loved ones, of people who were wounded like me, I think that all the system of moral principles and justice has now collapsed…."
There's rarely mention of good gestures from the Palestinians.
Two days before this latest release, Hamas terrorists in Gaza fired four rockets at southern Israel. One was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. Israel responded by targeting two underground rocket-launching sites.