AMMAN, (Reuters) – Jordan, under public pressure after a recent Hezbollah-Israel prisoner swap deal, on Wednesday freed four inmates handed over by Israel last year to finish their sentences at home, officials said.
The move has angered Israeli diplomats who say it breaches the terms of a deal last July when the four — who were serving life sentences for killing Israelis — were to spend 18 months in a local prison before their release.
The four — Sultan Ajlouni, Amin Sanae and Khaled and Yousef Abu Ghaleon — were convicted of two separate cross border incidents in which two Israelis were killed, officials say.
Jordanian officials at the time said the deal was a breakthrough after years of negotiations with successive Israeli governments opposed to handing over Arab inmates deemed to “have blood on their hands.” They insist the deal allows an immediate release of the prisoners if Israel agreed to free Palestinians or Arabs serving life sentences for militant attacks in any future prisoner swap with Hezbollah or Hamas.
The Jordanians were convicted in Israel after infiltrating from the kingdom to the occupied West Bank in 1991 and staging attacks against army outposts and Jewish settlers.
Israel accepted the deal as a gesture to Amman which in 1994 became the second Arab country after Egypt to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state.
The release reduces the pressure on the government, criticised by some independent politicians and the Islamist-led opposition for agreeing to the deal they see as humiliating.
Many Jordanians see the prisoners as heroes resisting Israel’s occupation of Arab land. The Islamist-led opposition are lobbying for the release of another 30 Jordanians held in Israeli prisons on security related charges.