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Israel Releases 550 Palestinian Prisoners

Palestinian relatives of prisoner Younis Jahjouh decorate the street ahead of his release from Israeli prisons in the Qalandia refugee camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah, Dec 17, 2011.

Israel has completed a prisoner swap with the Palestinian militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip.

There were celebrations in the West Bank as Israel released 550 Palestinian prisoners. A Palestinian celebrant said it is a step in the right direction. “We believe that we have our state and they have their state, and we can live with peace," she said.

It was the second phase of a prisoner swap that won the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit two months ago, after five years of Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip. Israel freed 477 Palestinian prisoners in the first phase. The final tally: 1,027 prisoners for one Israeli soldier.

While the Palestinians celebrated, there were mixed feelings in Israel. The first phase of the swap saw the release of top Hamas militants involved in deadly bombing and shooting attacks. Israeli analyst Dan Schueftan expects a new wave of terror. “This is the greatest, significant victory for terrorism that Israel has made possible since its establishment, and it will cost us many people dead and captured," he said.

Nevertheless, polls show that the vast majority of Israelis support the prisoner swap and the national effort to bring their soldiers home at any price.

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