Israel names 477 prisoners to go free in Shalit deal
JERUSALEM — Israel on Sunday released a list of 477 Palestinian prisoners to be released next week as part of the deal to secure Gilad Shalit’s freedom, many of whom were involved in bloody militant attacks.
Hundreds of them are serving life terms after being convicted of involvement in attacks, including the 2001 bombing of a Tel Aviv nightclub that killed 21 people and an attack on a Netanya hotel where 29 people died a year later.
Details of the prisoners’ identities were made public just 48 hours before the exchange was expected to take place, although the specific details of the handover were still being worked out, officials said.
Under the agreement signed last Tuesday, Israel is to free a total of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of the 25-year-old soldier, who has been in captivity in Gaza for more than five years.
If the deal goes through, it will be the largest number of Palestinian prisoners ever freed by the Jewish state to secure the release of just one person.
It will also be the first time in 26 years that a captured soldier has been returned to Israel alive.
The list of 450 Palestinian men and 27 women was released early 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 freed 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 in which the prisoners were involved.
The prisons service said 131 inmates would return to their homes in Gaza and 55 to 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 Gaza and 40 to be sent abroad. Another 18 were to be sent to Gaza for three years before being allowed 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 specific prisoners have 48 hours to do so.
One group representing victims of attacks has already filed a two-part petition, challenging the principle of releasing so many security prisoners, and also filing suit against the release of individual prisoners.
The Israeli 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.
Israel and Hamas are also mulling an offer of logistical help from the International Committee of the Red Cross, a spokeswoman for the Geneva-based group said.
Press reports suggested the 27 female prisoners 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.
He would then be flown to the Tel Nof military base near Tel Aviv to he reunited with his family.
Following publication of the names, the 27 women were transferred from Damun prison in the north to HaSharon in central Israel ahead of their release, officials said.
The women were transported in four buses with blacked out windows, Israel radio said.
The mass release of detainees was expected to spark major celebrations in the West Bank, where three days of official celebrations are planned, and particularly in Gaza, where Hamas officials said 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.