Israel names prisoners to be freed in Shalit deal

AFP , Sunday 16 Oct 2011

The 450-name swap deal list of Palestinian prisoners to be released next week in exchange for captive Israeli soldier, Shalit is published on the website of the Israeli Prisons Service

A Palestinian groom is carried by his friend as he celebrates his wedding and a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel, in front of the headquarters of the International Red Cross in Gaza City October 14, 2011. (Photo by Reuters)

Israel and Hamas on Sunday published the names of 477 Palestinian prisoners to be released next week in the first stage of a historic deal to secure the freedom of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Details of the prisoners' identities were made public just 48 hours before the exchange was expected to occur, although the specific details of how the handover would take place were still being worked out, officials said.

Under terms of the agreement which was signed last Tuesday, Israel will free a total of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of Shalit, who has been in captivity in Gaza for more than five years.

If the swap goes ahead as planned, it will be the first time in 26 years that a captured Israeli soldier has been returned to the Jewish state alive.

The list of 450 Palestinian men and 27 women was released early on Sunday on the website of the Israeli Prisons Service, in a move which gives the public 48 hours to lodge any legal appeals against the names.

The remaining 550 prisoners are to be released within two months.

Hamas also published an identical list on its official website.

As soon as the list was published, Israel's main radio and television stations began running details of deadly attacks the prisoners were convicted of carrying out.

Among those to be freed on Tuesday were Palestinians found guilty of taking part in the 2001 bombing of a Tel Aviv nightclub which killed 21 people, and the so-called Passover bombing of a hotel in the coastal town of Netanya in 2002, which killed 29 people, both of which were claimed by Hamas's armed wing.

The prisons service said 131 of the prisoners would be returning to their their homes in Gaza and 55 to their homes in the West Bank. Another 55 would be permitted to return to their families in the West Bank but with certain restrictions.

Six Arab-Israelis will also be sent home.

But 203 prisoners from the West Bank were to be exiled, with 145 to be transferred to the Gaza Strip, and 40 to be sent abroad. Another 18 were to be sent to Gaza for three years before they would be permitted to return to the West Bank.

Israeli President Shimon Peres received the files of the prisoners on Saturday evening to begin working on their official pardons, which must be signed before the exchange expected on Tuesday.

And with the names now officially in the public domain, Israelis who wish to appeal against the release of certain prisoners, have 48 hours to do so.

One Israeli group representing victims of attacks has already challenged the release, seeking a delay or cancellation of the deal before the High Court on Friday after unofficial prisoner lists were published by Palestinian websites.

The High Court has never overturned any government decision to free prisoners involved in militant attacks.

Details of the mechanics of the exchange are still being worked out, with Israel's chief negotiator David Meidan in Cairo to finalise the arrangements through Egyptian mediators.

Press reports suggested the 27 women would be freed as Shalit crosses from Gaza into the Sinai, while the main group of 450 prisoners would be freed as Shalit crosses the border from the Sinai into Israel.

The mass release of detainees was expected to spark major celebrations across the Gaza Strip, where Hamas officials said on Saturday that they would be welcomed as "heroes."

Israel was also expected to celebrate Shalit's long-awaited return, although the 25-year-old was likely to be kept far from the public eye in the face of concerns about his mental health after being held incommunicado in Gaza since his capture in June 2006.

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