Israeli Families Attempt to Block Palestinian Prisoner Swap

October 17, 2011

VOA News

Israel's Supreme Court is set to hear arguments from Israelis opposed to a proposed exchange of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Lawyers representing Israeli families whose relatives have been killed in Palestinian attacks will make their case Monday in a last-minute legal attempt to block the swap with the Islamist Hamas movement.

On Sunday, the High Court approved the Shalit family's request to argue in its chambers in favor of the deal. The family warned against any delay in what they called a "delicate" agreement to release their son.

In the past, Israeli courts have rejected petitions seeking to prevent the mass release of Palestinian prisoners.

Israel has transferred most of the 477 inmates expected to be released Tuesday to a holding facility in the Negev desert. On Sunday, the government published the official list of their names on its prison service website. Israeli citizens then had 48 hours to lodge any legal appeals against the deal.

Shalit was captured by Palestinian militants in a 2006 cross-border raid from Gaza into southern Israel.

Under the exchange deal, 1,027 Palestinians will be freed in two stages in return for Shalit, who will be released to Egyptian custody and then handed over to Israel. The remaining 550 inmates will be freed over a two-month period.

About 40 prisoners will be sent to third countries. Others will be allowed to return to their homes in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Some of the prisoners to be released were involved with planning and carrying out terrorist attacks against Israelis, including more than 280 Palestinians serving life sentences. More than 100 are considered hardcore militants.

Hamas leaders, who rule Gaza, met with Egyptian intelligence officers in Cairo Saturday to discuss the handover. Egypt helped mediate the deal.

Palestinian groups in Gaza are gearing up for celebrations to welcome prisoners home. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called their release "a great victory."

Opponents of such prisoner swaps call the policy "a grave mistake," and warn they will encourage more kidnappings of Israeli soldiers. Hamas already has said the latest deal is just the first step toward the release of all of the remaining 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

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