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Israel's High Court Approves Prisoner Exchange with Hamas

October 17, 2011

Robert Berger | Jerusalem

A major prisoner exchange between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas is expected to take place on Tuesday, after approval from Israel's Supreme Court.

The Israeli high court rejected petitions from the families of terror victims who tried to delay the release of Palestinian prisoners on grounds that they are terrorists who pose a threat to national security. Under the agreement, Israel will to release 1,027 prisoners in exchange for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Hamas for more than five years in the Gaza Strip.

The court ruled that the prisoner exchange is a political and security issue, and that there are no grounds to intervene in a decision by the Israeli government.

Petitioners like Yossi Tsur, who lost his son in a terrorist attack, are outraged.

"We came here today to the Supreme Court to try and stop this deal, which we think is a disaster to the State of Israel," said Tsur. "We think it's illegal; it's immoral. Releasing 1,000 terrorists is a crime against the people of Israel."

Despite the consternation over the release of top militants involved in deadly bombings, a public opinion survey shows that 79 percent of Israelis support the prisoner exchange.

Robi Damelin, who also lost a son in a Palestinian attack, says her heart is with Gilad Shalit's mother.

"I watched Aviva Shalit and I was so happy to see the smile on her face," said Damelin. "And there are all these mixed feelings, but I'm so convinced that we have to free prisoners. It's the beginning of a way to go towards reconciliation."

In the first stage on Tuesday, Israel is expected to release 477 Palestinian prisoners and the captive Israeli soldier will return home. An additional 550 Palestinian detainees will be released in two months.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum says the exchange is set to take place.

Barhoum says there are no obstacles in the way of completing the deal, and that Gilad Shalit will be handed over to Egyptian authorities. He says Palestinians are planning a big celebration in Gaza to give the returned prisoners a heroes’ welcome.

Um Herez is preparing to welcome her husband home after 26 years in an Israeli jail.

"I have no words to describe how happy I am,” she said, adding that as a mother, she is also happy for the mother of Gilad Shalit. Herez says she hopes that every missing son, regardless of his religion, will return home to his mother safe and sound.

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