The High Court of Justice rejected numerous petitions against the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap deal yesterday evening, removing the last legal obstacle before the release of the abducted soldier.
Israelis opposed to the deal petitioned the High Court yesterday to block the release of the Palestinians who would be freed in return. Immediately after the ruling, the prison service began making its final preparations for the release of the Palestinian prisoners.
Convoys of heavily guarded buses will leave the Ketziot and Sharon prisons early this morning with 477 security prisoners aboard; they are due to be released today. The Israel Defense Forces expects Hamas to transfer Shalit at around 6 A.M. to Egyptian officials, who will then take him out of the Gaza Strip and into Egypt through the Rafah crossing.
Once the IDF receives the news that Shalit has reached Egypt, the first two groups of Palestinian prisoners, mostly women, will be transferred via the Kerem Shalom crossing to Egypt and via the Beitunia crossing to the West Bank.
To prevent possible disruptions to the transfer of the Palestinian prisoners, the head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Tal Russo, signed an order yesterday declaring the Kerem Shalom region and the Erez crossing a closed military zone. The IDF has reinforced the troops in the area with a battalion from the officers training course, partly in an attempt to prevent the media from photographing Shalit.
The Gaza region has been quiet for the past few days with no cases of rocket fire or other shooting from Gaza, which reflects attempts by Hamas to prevent other Palestinian groups from interfering in the exchange, said officers from the Southern Command.
After a short period in Egypt, the Egyptian army is due to hand Shalit over to the IDF at one of the crossings on the Egyptian-Israeli border, most likely at Kerem Shalom.
The first Israeli team to meet Shalit will include the IDF chief medical officer, Brig. Gen. Dr. Yitzhak Kreis, and a psychologist who specializes in post-trauma cases.
Shalit will be moved in a heavily guarded convoy to a nearby military base where he will undergo an initial medical examination and speak by telephone with his family for the first time in over five years. He will be given an IDF uniform to wear.
Meanwhile, the other prisoners will be transferred via the Kerem Shalom and Beitunia crossings. All the prisoners to be transferred to Gaza will pass first through Egypt and from there to the Rafah crossing. Forty prisoners to be deported to foreign countries will be taken to Cairo first, where they will be welcomed by Hamas officials. The released prisoners with Israeli citizenship or from East Jerusalem will be freed by the Israel Police and the prison service within Israel.
If the IDF's expectations that Shalit is in good health prove to be true, he will be flown by helicopter to the Tel Nof air base. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz will meet him at Tel Nof and escort him to his first meeting with his family: his parents, brother, sister and grandparents.
Shalit will undergo more comprehensive medical tests at Tel Nof.
Netanyahu, Barak and Gantz will arrive at the press center set up outside the base and make a statement. The plan is for the air force to fly Shalit and his family by helicopter in the early afternoon to Tefen in the Galilee, and from there a convoy will take them to their home in Mitzpeh Hila.
The IDF Central Command is not only taking precautions to protect the prisoners being transferred to the West Bank, the command is also on alert for possible "price tag" attacks by settlers and others who oppose the Shalit deal and the release of the terrorists.
Four petitions were submitted to the High Court of Justice against the prisoner exchange agreement, filed by the Almagor Terror Victims Association and relatives of Israelis killed in Palestinian attacks.
Similar to appeals in prisoner exchange deals in the past, the court declined to intervene in what it considered a political and security matter. The High Court's written ruling said the place for such decisions was in the cabinet and not in court.
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch wrote: "The decision on the questions raised in the case before, which combines security considerations, moral considerations and ethical considerations, is given in principle to the executive branch: the elected government. Now, maybe even more than in the past, it is clear that the fate of Gilad Shalit is hanging [in the balance] and any change in the agreement could prevent the agreement from being implemented and could even endanger Gilad's life." She wrote that the court did not have the authority to intervene under such circumstances.
During the hearing, Shvuel Schijveschuurder, a 27-year-old from Givat Shmuel who lost his parents and three of his siblings in the 2001 terror attack at the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem, shouted at Gilad Shalit's father Noam. Schijveschuurder - who last week vandalized Yitzhak Rabin's Tel Aviv memorial in protest of the Shalit deal - shouted: "Hang a black flag over your home in Mitzpeh Hila, this is a day of mourning."
Bereaved family members disrupted the court session many times, yelling out their objections. Speaking after the court hearing, Schijveschuurder was beside himself with emotion, shouting outside the courtroom: "If the government can't carry out a 'price tag' I'll carry it out myself."
"We will not let the terrorists leave Israel's borders. If the court can't carry out a 'price tag' then I have the justification and the authority to seek that price tag, even from The Hague," Schijveschuurder said.
Speaking after the court session, Noam Shalit said that his family's hearts were "with the bereaved families today. We are also a bereaved family and we know that there are bereaved families who support the deal.
"It's a tough deal. We would have been happy if Gilad had been freed in another way, but unfortunately the State of Israel has not been able to create the kind of pressure that would bring about his release," he added.
"I regret the fact that the bereaved families were not with us when we were trying to pressure the Israeli government and Hamas, and to stop the trucks of money and goods [making their way into Gaza]," Shalit said.
"Not implementing the deal will not return the murdered loved ones and would sentence Gilad to death," he said.
"Any delay, any displacement of a single detail in the deal could seal his fate."
Before yesterday's court session, Netanyahu sent a letter to hundreds of families of terror victims. Netanyahu expressed understanding and empathy for the families, but said he is "faced with the responsibility of the prime minister of Israel to bring home every soldier who is sent to protect our citizens."
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