JERUSALEM, July 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department announced Sunday that direct peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians will resume in Washington Monday evening.
Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement that Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to personally extend an invitation to both sides to send senior negotiating teams to Washington "to formally resume direct final status negotiations." She said initial meetings were planned for Monday evening and Tuesday.
"The Israelis will be represented by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho, and the Palestinians will be represented by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh," Psaki said in the statement. "As Secretary Kerry announced on July 19 in Amman, Jordan, the Israelis and Palestinians had reached agreement on the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations. The meetings in Washington will mark the beginning of these talks. They will serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months."
Psaki said Kerry once again 'commended the courage shown" by Netanyahu and Abbas in working toward a final status agreement.
"Both leaders have demonstrated a willingness to make difficult decisions that have been instrumental in getting to this point," the statement quoted Kerry as saying. 'We are grateful for their leadership."
Israeli government ministers approved the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners Sunday in a vote Netanyahu said "was not easy."
Thirteen ministers voted in favor of the release, seven opposed the move and two ministers abstained, Israel's Channel 10 reported. The prisoners to be set free include Palestinians and Israeli Arabs incarcerated before the 1993 Oslo Accords, and those responsible for killing Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Israel will release the prisoners in four batches beginning in August, during the nine-month negotiation process with the Palestinians, Israel Radio said. Netanyahu said a special ministerial committee will be established to review the prisoners to be set free.
It was unclear whether the batch of Israeli Arabs will be included in the prisoner release. Earlier in the day Netanyahu said the release of the Israeli Arabs would be subjected to a separate vote.
"This moment is not easy for me, it is not easy for the ministers, and particularly not easy for the bereaved families, which I sympathize with," Netanyahu said at the start of the Cabinet meeting, Ynetnews.com reported. "Sometimes you need to make tough decisions for the better of the entire state, and this is one of those moments."
Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israel has released about 9,200 Palestinian prisoners in swaps and deals or gestures to the Palestinians, the Israeli website Walla reported.
Dozens of Israelis who lost relatives in terror attacks protested outside the prime minister's office in Jerusalem before the Cabinet voted. Protesters called on the government not to release the prisoners and held up photos of victims killed in terror attacks and banners saying 'You don't release terrorists."
Dozens of Palestinians in Ramallah protested the Palestinian Authority's agreement to resume peace talks with Israel, Ma'an News Agency said. Demonstrators marched toward Abbas' office, chanting slogans condemning his decision to return to the negotiating table, the news agency said. Four Palestinian police officers and three protesters were injured in clashes.