BEITUNIYA, West Bank (AP) _ Israel on Thursday began releasing Palestinian security prisoners, carrying out the first stage of a new peace deal that also requires the transfer of seven percent of the West Bank to Palestinian civilian rule by the weekend.

The releases, coming a day ahead of deadline, were the first concrete evidence after nearly a year of deadlock that Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking is back on track.

The first prisoners were freed just after dawn Thursday, with two buses rolling out of Ashkelon Prison near Israel's Mediterranean coast.