PICTURES

Israel frees 26 Palestinian prisoners

 A released Palestinian prisoner reacts upon his arrival at the Erez crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip on Oct 30, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP 
 A released Palestinian prisoner reacts upon his arrival at the Erez crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip on Oct 30, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP 
 A released Palestinian prisoner reacts upon his arrival at the Erez crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip on Oct 30, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP 
 A released Palestinian prisoner reacts upon his arrival at the Erez crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip on Oct 30, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Palestinians welcome the released prisoners on a vehicle outside Ofer prison near the West Bank town of Ramallah, early on Wednesday, Oct 30, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Palestinians welcome the released prisoners on a vehicle outside Ofer prison near the West Bank town of Ramallah, early on Wednesday, Oct 30, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Palestinians hold up Palestinian flags to celebrate as they wait for the arrival of released prisoners outside Ofer prison near the West Bank town of Ramallah, early on Wednesday, Oct 30, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Palestinians hold up Palestinian flags to celebrate as they wait for the arrival of released prisoners outside Ofer prison near the West Bank town of Ramallah, early on Wednesday, Oct 30, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Palestinians wait for the release of prisoners from Israeli jails, near Erez crossing between Israel and northern Gaza Strip on Oct 30, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Palestinians wait for the release of prisoners from Israeli jails, near Erez crossing between Israel and northern Gaza Strip on Oct 30, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A released Palestinian prisoner is greeted by people upon his arrival at Erez crossing between Israel and northern Gaza Strip on Oct 30, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A released Palestinian prisoner is greeted by people upon his arrival at Erez crossing between Israel and northern Gaza Strip on Oct 30, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A released Palestinian prisoner (left) reacts as he sits next to his mother in a car upon his arrival at Erez crossing between Israel and northern Gaza Strip on Oct 30, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A released Palestinian prisoner (left) reacts as he sits next to his mother in a car upon his arrival at Erez crossing between Israel and northern Gaza Strip on Oct 30, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
 A released Palestinian prisoner reacts upon his arrival at the Erez crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip on Oct 30, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
 A released Palestinian prisoner reacts upon his arrival at the Erez crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip on Oct 30, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A released Palestinian prisoner reacts upon his arrival at the Erez crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip on Oct 30, 2013.-- PHOTO: REUTERS
A released Palestinian prisoner reacts upon his arrival at the Erez crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip on Oct 30, 2013.-- PHOTO: REUTERS
Palestinian prisoners' relatives wait behind a fence for their release at Erez point in the northern Gaza Strip on Oct 29, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP
Palestinian prisoners' relatives wait behind a fence for their release at Erez point in the northern Gaza Strip on Oct 29, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP
A released Palestinian prisoner reacts upon his arrival at the Erez crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip on Oct 30, 2013. Israel freed 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners on Wednesday, alongside US-brokered peace talks, AFP correspondents
A released Palestinian prisoner reacts upon his arrival at the Erez crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip on Oct 30, 2013. Israel freed 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners on Wednesday, alongside US-brokered peace talks, AFP correspondents said. -- PHOTO: AFP

OFER PRISON, Israel (AFP) - Israel freed 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners on Wednesday, alongside US-brokered peace talks, AFP correspondents said.

A group of 21 prisoners from the West Bank left Ofer prison, near Jerusalem, shortly after 1.00 am local time and the other five crossed moments later into the Gaza strip, correspondents at both sites said.

The West Bankers left Ofer in two mini buses with blacked-out windows and drove the short distance to the Beitunia crossing into the West Bank where they were greeted with cheers and fireworks.

They then set out for nearby Ramallah were they were to be welcomed at an official ceremony headed by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

The Gazans were met by hundreds of relatives and well-wishers as they entered the strip through the Erez crossing from Israel.

All 26 were convicted for killing Israelis, with most of the attacks occurring before the 1993 Oslo Accords, which granted the Palestinians limited self-rule but failed to usher in an independent state.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to release 104 prisoners in stages as part of the resumption of talks in late July, after a three-year hiatus. A first tranche of 26 was freed on August 13.

The talks are held under a US-imposed media blackout but a senior Palestinian official said on Tuesday that Israel had adopted hardline positions and negotiations had so far produced "no tangible progress".

"The current Israeli negotiating position is the worst in more than 20 years," Mr Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top official with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said in a statement.

"They want security first, and that the borders of the state of Palestine should be set out according to Israeli security needs that never end, and that will undermine the possibility of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state."