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Israel to free 'heavyweight' Palestinians in peace talk agreement

TEL AVIV, Israel, July 20 (UPI) -- Hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons for many years will be freed as part of an agreement to resume peace talks, an Israeli official says.

Israel's international relations minister, Yuval Steinitz, said the release would include "heavyweight prisoners in jail for decades," the BBC reported Saturday.

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In announcing the resumption of peace talks Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the talks would begin "in the next week or so," but did not indicate what the two sides had agreed to.

Steinitz's comments provided the first details about the agreement, which came after four days of shuttle diplomacy by Kerry.

The Israeli minister said the release would occur in stages.

Palestinian Labor Minister Ahmed Majdalani said Kerry has assured the Palestinians about 350 prisoners will be released, Ynetnews.com reported.

The Palestinians have committed to "serious negotiations" for at least nine months, he added.

Steinitz said Israel had not accepted any Palestinian preconditions, including a halt to the construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Palestine has long sought the release of prisoners held since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords.

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A total of 4,817 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails, the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem says.

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