Israel begins prisoner transfer as part of deal to free Gilad Shalit

Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners including militants serving multiple life sentences moved to two jails in first phase
of exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit

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By Harriet Sherwood
The Guardian

Israel began to transfer hundreds of Palestinian prisoners to two jails on Sunday before their release in the coming days as part of the deal struck with Hamas in exchange for the freeing of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

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Palestinian prisoners transferred
ahead of the Gilad Shalit swap deal,
Oct. 16, 2011
Photo By Alon Ron

The names of 450 male prisoners and 27 female prisoners scheduled for release were published by the Israeli prison service on Saturday night. Among them are militants serving multiple life sentences for attacks in which Israeli civilians were killed and maimed. The oldest prisoner, Mohamed Hemad, was arrested 35 years ago.

Israelis who want to challenge the release of individuals have until the end of Monday to lodge objections at the high court of justice. However, the court is not expected to intervene following the approval of the deal by a large majority in the cabinet and its widespread public support.

Shalit was captured in June 2006 by Palestinian militants who tunnelled into Israel from the Gaza Strip. He has been held in the Hamas-ruled territory ever since. His family’s tireless campaign to get him released has turned him into a national cause celebre.

Although there was jubilation in Israel at the news of the deal, that has been tempered by some people warning that the price of Shalit’s release is too high.

The first phase of the prisoner swap involves 450 men and 27 women. Another 550 will be released in about two months, according to officials familiar with the Egyptian-mediated deal. Some prisoners originally from the West Bank will be sent to the Gaza Strip and other prisoners will be exiled abroad.

One Israeli group opposed to the deal, the Almagor Terror Victims’ Association, said the release would lead to further violence and abduction attempts and robbed victims of the right to live in peace.

Among the more prominent names on the list is Ahlam Tamimi, who worked as a reporter with a local television station before joining the Hamas armed wing. She received 16 life sentences for helping choose places for suicide attacks and was accused of taking bombers to some of the locations, including a Jerusalem pizzeria in 2001, where 15 people were killed.

Also to be released is Mohammed Al-Sharatha, a leader of the Hamas special elite fighting unit “101″ which kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in 1989. The two soldiers were killed. Sharatha was arrested in 1989 and sentenced to three life terms and a separate 30-year-term.

Absent from the list is Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for murder. A popular, respected and influential figure in the Fatah political faction, there has long been speculation that he could succeed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas if he was released from prison.

Shalit’s parents, Noam and Aviva, returned to their home in Mitzpe Hila in the Galilee region last week to prepare for their son’s return. They are expected to be reunited with him at a military base in central Israel on Tuesday, where the soldier will also be greeted by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Shalit will undergo intensive medical examinations, both physiological and psychological, on his release. He is also likely to face a long period of debriefing by intelligence officers.

See Related: Gilad Shalit Agreement Archive


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