JERUSALEM - The government Sunday approved the contentious release of long-serving Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners, reportedly including some with Israeli blood on their hands, to coincide with renewed peace talks, public radio said.

It said the 22-member cabinet approved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to free prisoners by a vote of 13 in favour, seven against and two abstentions.

In an open letter published on his official Facebook site Saturday, Netanyahu said he had agreed “to free 104 Palestinians in stages, after the start of negotiations and according to progress” and that he would seek cabinet endorsement.

His office said in a statement on Sunday that the cabinet also approved peace talks with the Palestinians brokered by the United States but without elaborating where or when. The statement, however, did not announce that a prisoner release had been approved, only mentioning the formation of a committee on the issue.

“The government approved the opening of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians... and mandated a ministerial committee for the release of prisoners during the course of the talks,” it said.

A Palestinian official told AFP on Saturday that peace talks, stalled since September 2010, would open in Washington on Tuesday. Ahead of the talks, the Israeli cabinet has also approved an “urgent and important” bill which would require a referendum for a peace treaty in some circumstances. A cabinet briefing paper said the government would ask parliament to fast-track its passage into law. If adopted, the bill would oblige a referendum in cases where territory over which Israel claims sovereignty is ceded in a peace agreement or by a cabinet decision.

While a plebiscite would not be a requirement in the case of Israeli withdrawal from the rest of the West Bank, it would apply to changes in any part of mainly-Arab east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War.