Palestinian official says there is a discrepancy in the number of women to be released
Those on list "have dedicated their lives to killing Jews," father of bombing victim says
The swap is expected to take place early this week
The deal includes an Israeli soldier held since 2006 and more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners
Israel early Sunday released the names of the first group of Palestinian prisoners to be freed in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, setting in motion a process that will allow the public to file objections to specific releases.
The list features 477 names, including those of Ahlam Tamimi, serving life terms for being an accomplice in a suicide bombing at a Jerusalem restaurant, and Amneh Muna, who plotted the killing of a 16-year-old Israeli boy in 2001 and received a life sentence.
The most notable name not in the list is jailed Palestinian lawmaker Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences. He was convicted in an Israeli court on murder and other charges related to his role in planning attacks on Israelis during the second Intifada.
In exchange, the Palestinian group Hamas will release Shalit, who was captured in a June 2006 raid on an Israeli army outpost. Shalit has been held incommunicado by the group, which controls Gaza, since his seizure.
Israel approved the deal Tuesday night, agreeing to release in two stages 1,027 Palestinians prisoners, including hundreds serving life sentences for attacks on Israelis. The first swap is expected to take place early this week, with the second stage scheduled for later this year.
Israel’s Prisons Authority said the Palestinians slated for release are being taken to two facilities – one for the 27 female prisoners on the list, the rest for the men – from which they will be released together. Once freed, they will be under various restrictions on a case-by-case basis: Some will not be allowed to leave the country, while others will have other restrictions on their movement or be required to report their whereabouts to local police, Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen told CNN.
Shalit, meanwhile, will be transferred back into Israeli territory via the Kerem Shalom border crossing and will undergo medical tests and debriefing at an air force base, the Israeli military said. Once that is complete, he will be flown to his home at Mitzpe Hila, north of Haifa.
“The mission will be completed when Gilad Shalit returns to his family alive and well and in good health,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following a meeting with David Meidan, his special envoy on the Shalit issue, who returned from Cairo on Sunday.
A Palestinian official raised questions about the fact that only 27 women are among those being released, however.
“We believe that there were some discrepancies conducted by the people conducting the negotiations on behalf of the Palestinian female prisoners. Instead of negotiating on all 37 names of female Palestinian prisoners … they only negotiated on 27 names especially when Khaled Meshaal (Hamas leader) said that all Palestinian female prisoners will be released,” said Hassan Abed Rabo, a spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners Affairs.
“We welcome the release of any Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails regardless of their political affiliation and political backgrounds, but what worries us is the remaining thousands of Palestinian prisoners who remain inside Israeli jails under … difficult conditions,” Rabo said.
A spokesperson for Israeli President Shimon Peres said Saturday that the pardoning process formally commenced after a Justice Ministry official submitted the requisite paperwork.
Peres will allocate 48 hours to complete the procedure in order to allow public objections and petitions against the pardons.
The president is expected to voice his discomfort with the release of convicted murderers, but is unlikely to reject any of the pardon requests, spokeswoman Ayelet Frish told CNN. Any changes to the list negotiated with Hamas could potentially endanger the entire deal, she said.
Shalit has been a recurring topic in the country’s national dialogue. Militants captured him in June 2006 after tunneling into the Jewish state and attacking an Israeli army outpost. Israel immediately launched a military incursion into Gaza to rescue Shalit, then 19, but failed to free him. Since then, he has been held incommunicado by Hamas.
Shalit’s family has continuously petitioned Israeli government officials to broker a deal that would secure his release.
“Everyone wants to see Gilad Shalit safe and well and back home but I think there is a real failure to understand the price that is being paid, and the price is phenomenal,” said Arnold Roth, who lost his daughter Malki in the Jerusalem suicide bombing in 2001. “We are releasing people who have dedicated their lives to killing Jews and Israelis.”
Roth opposes the announced release of Tamimi, who was sentenced to multiple life sentences for her involvement in the August 2001 bombing of a Sbarro pizza restaurant in 2001, in which 16 people were killed.
Israeli radio reported Saturday that 182 files for pardons were submitted to the president for prisoners convicted in Israeli criminal courts. Remaining pardon requests will be handled by the Israeli Defense Forces officials.
On Friday, the terror victims association Almagor petitioned the Supreme Court to suspend the release until the deal is thoroughly examined.
More petitions against the deal are expected to be submitted Sunday by families of victims directly affected by the prisoners on the list.
The Ministry of Justice announced it will operate an information center “where information regarding prisoners on the list can be obtained.”
Of the male prisoners on the list, 275 will return to their homes in Gaza. Most of the rest will be sent to the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Five prisoners who are Israeli citizens can return to their homes, and 39 are to be sent abroad.
CNN’s Kareem Khadder contributed to this report