Israel prepares to free 550 Palestinian prisoners

Israel was preparing to release 550 Palestinian prisoners who will be freed after nightfall to complete a swap deal.

Last Updated: Dec 18, 2011, 21:24 PM IST

Jerusalem: Israel was on Sunday preparing to
release 550 Palestinian prisoners who will be freed after
nightfall to complete a swap deal which brought about the
release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit.

The release operation was expected to take place late in
the evening, when the prisoners would be bussed to drop-off
points near the West Bank city of Ramallah and along the Gaza
border.

Among the prisoners earmarked for release is Salah
Hamuri, a French-Palestinian who was convicted of plotting to
assassinate a Jewish religious leader and had been due to
complete his seven-year sentence in March.

There are also six women.
Unlike in the first stage of the deal, which saw the
release in October of 477 Palestinians including hundreds
serving life for killing Israelis, today`s operation will not
include anyone "with blood on their hands," officials on both
sides said.

The Israel Prisons Service said 40 of those to be freed
would be returned to their homes in Gaza, two to
Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, two to Jordan and the
remainder to the occupied West Bank.

The vast majority of prisoners were expected to be turned
loose from Ofer prison near Ramallah at 10:00 pm (2000 GMT),
while the Gaza residents would be freed at the same time at
the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

The list of names was published on Wednesday, and an
appeal to delay the deal lodged by Israeli victims of
Palestinian attacks was rejected by the Supreme Court on
Friday, clearing the way for the operation to go ahead.

The names of the prisoners to be released were selected
by Israel, and none of them belong to Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
Israeli officials said priority had been given to members of
the secular Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud
Abbas.

Under the landmark swap deal agreed with Gaza`s Hamas
rulers in October, Israel agreed to free 1,027 Palestinian
prisoners in exchange for Shalit, who had been held in Hamas
captivity in Gaza for more than five years.

It was the first time in 26 years that a captured soldier
has been returned to Israel alive.

PTI