TWENTY-SIX Palestinian prisoners freed by Israel were mobbed as they crossed checkpoints into the West Bank and Gaza.
The move was part of a political agreement to restart peace talks that had been stalled for three years. But it was met with anger by many ordinary Israelis who branded the prisoners "murderers and terrorists".
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas greeted 11 of the men in the West Bank. The release last night took place before negotiators convened in Jerusalem this afternoon. Follow-up meetings are expected every few weeks.
A stumbling block was Israel's an-nouncement over the weekend that it plans to increase its settlement of the West Bank and East Jerusalem which the Palestinians want as part of their state in any deal.
US secretary of state John Kerry, leading the peace talks, said he had a "very frank and open, direct discussion" in a phone call with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the issue. As the peace talks resumed, controversy over the prisoner releases continued.
Among them was Atiyeh Salem Abu Musa who was arrested in 1994 for the murder of Holocaust survivor Issac Rotenberg. Another was convicted in 1991 of the murder of French tourist Annie Ley in a restaurant.
Adel Mesleh, brother of Salama Mesleh who was jailed in 1993 with a life sentence for killing an Israeli, said: "I never expected to see him again. The joy of the whole world is with me."
But earlier in the evening the two buses carrying the Palestinians left Ayalon prison near Tel Aviv to be met with a demonstration by relatives of their victims.
Many had their hands painted red. They jeered and briefly tried to block the road as the convoy passed by.
One man who lost his wife and son in a 1987 bomb attack said: "I want to see this 'hero' coming back home, saying that he killed a 34-year-old pregnant woman and a five-year old kid. They are cowards."