Israelis opposed to a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas asked the High Court on Monday to block the release of hundreds of jailed Palestinians in return for captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.
The High Court convened at 12 P.M. to consider four petitions filed by the Almagor Terror Victims Association and relatives of Israelis killed in Palestinian attacks. Judging from similar appeals in prisoner exchange deals in the past, the court is unlikely to intervene in what it considers a political and security issue.
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 Jerusalem “Sbarro” restaurant, yelled at Gilad Shalit's father Noam, who came as to court as a defender.
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 Mitzpe Hila, this is a day of mourning."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter Monday to hundreds of families of terror victims. In his letter, Netanyahu expressed understanding and empathy for the families, but stated that he is "faced with the responsibility of the Prime Minister of Israel to bring home every soldier who is sent to protect our citizens."
The first phase of the swap, to take place Tuesday, should bring to a close a saga that has gripped Israelis over the five years of Shalit's captivity in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
But under Israeli law, those against the planned release of 477 of the 1,027 Palestinian prisoners included in the deal - many of whom were convicted of deadly attacks - can appeal before the exchange is carried out.
Hamas prepared a heroes' welcome in Gaza for 295 of the prisoners due to be sent to the territory. Palestinians regard brethren jailed by Israel as prisoners of war in a struggle for statehood. Israel holds some 6,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Shalit, now 25, was captured in 2006 by militants who tunneled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and surprised his tank crew, killing two of his comrades.
The repatriation of captured soldiers, alive or dead, has long been an emotionally charged issue for Israelis, many of whom have served in the military. But they also feel a sting over the high price they feel Israel paid for Shalit.
Ron Kehrmann, whose daughter Tal was among 17 people killed in a suicide bombing on a bus in the northern Israeli city of Haifa in 2003, said he was asking the High Court to prevent the release of three Palestinians linked to the attack. But he said he was not hopeful. "This whole fiasco - it's fixed," he told Army Radio.
Yossi Zur, whose son Asaf was among 17 people killed in a suicide bombing on a bus in the Israeli city of Haifa in 2003, asked the court to prevent the release of the prisoners, three of whom were linked to the attack.
"From our experience with past deals, and sadly we have a lot of experience, we know how many Israelis will be killed as a result of the release of these terrorists. I am here to protect my children who are still alive," Zur told Channel 10 television.
In a rare step, the court has allowed Shalit's parents to appear and argue in favor of the deal for their son. "Nobody knows what the impact of any delay, or any change, even the smallest, in the terms would be," they wrote in a letter to the court.
Israel's Prison Service has bused the 477 Palestinian prisoners under heavy guard to two holding facilities ahead of their release. On Tuesday, some of the Palestinians will be brought to Egypt's Sinai desert, where the exchange for Shalit will take place. Some of those prisoners will be taken to the Gaza Strip and others will be exiled abroad. Shalit will be flown to an air base in Israel to be reunited with his family.
A smaller group of prisoners on the release roster will be taken from Israel to the West Bank, where they will be welcomed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Hamas rival, and their families.
In the second stage, expected to take place in about two months, the remaining 550 Palestinian prisoners will be freed, officials said.
Israel's deal with Hamas seemed unlikely to have an impact on international efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which collapsed 13 months ago in a dispute over settlement-building in the West Bank.
Abbas has been pursuing a bid for United Nations recognition of Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the absence of negotiations with Israel.
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