Israel Prepares to Swap Nearly 500 Prisoners

The country is releasing Palestinian convicts in exchange for a soldier held by Hamas

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The list of 477 Palestinians to be released by Israel in exchange for one soldier is out.

The details are wrenching for Israel, reports say, because some of those to be released in order that Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit be released are militants believed to be responsible for terrorist attacks that killed Israeli citizens.

From The New York Times:

Those being freed include the founders of Hamas’s armed wing and militants who kidnapped and killed Israeli soldiers and civilians. A mastermind of the 2001 bombing of a Jerusalem pizzeria that killed 15 will walk out of prison, as will a woman who used the Internet to lure a lovesick Israeli teenager to a Palestinian city and had him murdered.

Most of the prisoners were serving life sentences, some for being involved in attacks like the 2001 bombing of a Tel Aviv nightclub that killed 21 people and a suicide bombing a year later of a Netanya hotel in which 29 died.

The swap is raising tensions among Israelis who disagree about whether the state should agree to such a deal. Among the angriest are the survivors of some terrorist attack victims, McClatchy Newspapers noted:

On Friday, 27-year-old Shvuel Schijveschuurder was arrested and accused of splashing white paint and spraying graffiti on the memorial to the assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in central Tel Aviv. Police said he was spurred to attack the memorial when news broke that several Palestinians involved in the 2001 suicide bombing at the Sbarro Pizza restaurant in Jerusalem would be among the released prisoners. Rabin was killed in 1995.

Schijveschuurder's parents and three siblings were among those killed in the restaurant.

"The Shalits' struggle is legitimate, but if his release is contingent upon the freeing of prisoners, then the Shalit family should join us, the bereaved family," Schijveschuurder said.

There are tensions on Hamas' side too, especially because not all of the female prisoners being held will be released. But Hamas' leader, Mahmoud Zahar, said in an interview that the continued imprisonment of those captives would not undercut the deal. And beyond this exchange, there will be no more direct talks between Hamas and Israel, Zahar said.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.