News / Middle East

    Israeli Soldier, 477 Palestinians Freed in Prisoner Swap

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    Scott Bobb

    An Israeli soldier held more than five years by Palestinian captors has returned home, and Israel has freed more than 400 Palestinians, in one of the largest prisoner swaps between the two sides.

    Palestinian Prisoners Expected To Be Freed

    • Here is a list of some key Palestinian inmates slated to be freed in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit:
    • Nael Barghouthi: Believed to be the longest-serving Palestinian prisoner. He received a life sentence in 1978 for his role in the murder of an Israeli during a Palestinian commando operation. He is sometimes referred to as the "dean" of Palestinian prisoners because of the length of time he has spent behind bars.
    • Sami Younis: Believed to be the oldest Palestinian prisoner, some reports say he is 78. He was detained by Israeli forces in 1983. He received a life sentence on charges that include participating in the killing of an Israeli soldier.
    • Yehya al-Sinwar: A Hamas leader who founded the group's security structure in Gaza. Convicted in the kidnapping and murder of an Israeli soldier. He is the brother of a Hamas member who was involved in the 2006 raid that resulted in the capture of Shalit.
    • Abdel Hadi Ghanem: An Islamic Jihad member who was convicted of hijacking an Israeli bus in 1989 and killing 16 passengers.
    • Mohammed al-Sharatha: Leader of a Hamas cell that kidnapped and killed two Israeli soldiers in 1989. Sentenced to three life terms.

    • Several high-profile Palestinian prisoners are not on the exchange list. They include:
    • Marwan Barghouti: Considered a possible successor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Arrested in 2002, Barghouti is serving multiple life terms for his role in deadly attacks against Israelis.
    • Ahmed Saadat: The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader was convicted of planning the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister in 2001.

    Israeli army Sergeant Gilad Shalit returned to his family in Israel amid an outpouring of national joy, as 477 Palestinian prisoners, 27 of them women, regained their freedom amid celebrations across the Palestinian territories.

    The spokesman for the Israeli military General Yoav Mordechai, announced Shalit's release shortly after midday on Tuesday.  He said Gilad Shalit has returned home, back from the military operation he left for on June 25, 2006.

    That is the day Shalit was captured by forces of the Hamas Palestinian group during a clash in southern Israel.  

    In subsequent years, there were intensive diplomatic efforts to gain the soldier's release, along with flare-ups of fighting that inflicted considerable damage on Palestinian installations in Hamas-ruled Gaza.   

    Hamas transferred Shalit to Egypt Tuesday morning under a deal mediated by the Egyptian government.  Egyptian authorities quickly handed him over to the Israelis.

    Shalit told Egypt's Nile TV that he had been informed of his impending release about one week ago.

    He says he missed his family and missed talking to people. He says he was afraid he would be a prisoner for years to come.

    In the Palestinian territories, the mood was jubilant as hundreds of prisoners, including some who had been jailed by Israel for decades, regained their freedom in the swap and rejoined their families.

    But some released Palestinians were not able to go home. Dozens who were from the West Bank were instead deported to Gaza or elsewhere.  One of them, Halal Jarad, told al-Jazeera TV he is sad he will not see his family but that he would seek to live a normal life.

    "I plan to open a house and marry. And I look for peace. It's very difficult in the war. It's very ugly from all the conditions," said Jarad.

    Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the prisoner release.

    Abbas said there is an agreement with the Israeli government for the release of another larger group of Palestinians soon.  "We are asking the Israelis to respect their promises," said Abbas.

    Under the deal, Israel is to release an additional 550 Palestinian prisoners within two months.  An estimated 6,000 Palestinians remain in Israeli jails. Hamas leaders have vowed to see them all released.

    The deal was controversial. Families of some of the Israeli victims of Palestinian attacks were angry to see the attackers go free. Other Israelis feared the prisoner release would lead to an increase in violence.

    Palestinians were upset that some of their most prominent figures in Israeli custody were excluded from the deal.

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