The release of long-term Palestinian prisoners jailed for "terrorism" triggered an angry Israeli backlash yesterday that threatened to over-shadow the expected arrival of John Kerry, the US secretary of state, to begin talks on a proposed "framework" peace agreement.
They were the third of four batches of prisoners Israel agreed to release last July as part of the price for re-starting long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.
But scenes of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, kissing and hugging each prisoner after their release provoked revulsion in Israel, with critics complaining that most of the inmates had been convicted of murdering Israelis.
"Each one of us sees this and we ask ourselves, can we make peace with these people, who welcome murderers with flowers as if they were heroes," Silvan Shalom, the Israeli regional development minister, told Israel Radio.
"If these are their heroes, if this is what they show the young generation, that these loathsome murderers are heroes, can we make peace with them?"
The latest release was the pretext for an outbreak of so-called "price tag" vandalism by radical Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
Graffiti bearing the slogans "there will be war for Judea and Samaria (the West Bank)", "Blood will be spilled for Judea and Samaria! A lot of blood" and "regards to John Kerry" was sprayed on the walls of a house in Jilazoun, a Palestinian village near the settlement of Beit El.
Israeli police were treating the incident as a suspected Right-wing nationalist crime. "Price tag" attacks -- often involving spray-painted hate slogans and car-burnings -- have become common in recent times, especially after perceived concessions by Israel or attacks by Palestinians on Israelis.
Israel is expected to announce 1,400 new settlement homes, including 600 in the East Jerusalem development of Givat Hamatos, in a step designed to assuage Right-wing anger over the prisoner releases.
The move, in line with similar announcements following earlier releases, would represent a defiant snub to European pressure aimed at dissuading Israel from trying to dilute the effect of freeing prisoners with new settlement announcements.
Mr Kerry is expected to present the broad outline of his vision for a peace agreement when he arrives in Holy Land today. He is trying to persuade Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas to reach a "framework agreement" by the end of January that would serve as a guide to settling the conflict's core issues.
Separately, 27 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank by Israel's security forces in 2013, a three-fold increase on the previous year, B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group reported. It was the highest number of Palestinians killed in the West Bank in five years. (© Daily Telegraph, London)