The Israel Prison Service (IPS) has completed its preparations for the release of 256 Palestinians prisoners. According to the plan, IPS buses carrying the prisoners will arrive at the Bitunia crossing in the West Bank at 10 am Friday, and the prisoners will be transferred to the Palestinian Authority.
The IPS has been preparing for the move since the decision was made to release 256 prisoners and their names were published.
Some 150 prisoners were jailed in the Ketziot Prison and another 100 were held in different jails across the country. Six female prisoners were jailed in the Sharon Prison.
The 100 prisoners jailed across the country were transferred to the Ketziot Prison ahead of their release and underwent last identification checks.
Warden Eli Gabizon, commander of the IPS' southern districti, said that according to the government decision,
all the prisoners slated to be released are prisoners with no blood on their hands, residents of the West Bank, Fatah members, and have served 70 percent of their jail term.
A day before their release, the prisoners underwent medical tests and met with Red Cross officials. They also signed a commitment not to engage in terror after the release. One of the prisoners who refused to sign the document changed his mind and signed it after it was made clear to him that the commitment was part of the release.
According to Gabizon, early Friday the prisoners will be handcuffed and taken by bus under tight security to the Bitunia crossing, where they will be transferred to the Palestinian Authority. The six female prisoners will be released from the Sharon Prison and will also be taken to the crossing.
The prisoners will be taken by bus to the Muqataa compound in Ramallah, where they will be greeted by top PLO and PA officials, headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is expected to congratulate them on their release.
From the Muqataa the prisoners will be transferred to their homes. A humble welcome is expected in many places, as PA officials have said in recent days that they were not satisfied with the list as it had been decided one-sidedly by Israel.
Ziad Abu Ein, a senior Fatah official in the territories and the director-general of the Palestinian ministry for prisoner affairs, said that although the PA was pleased to see any prisoner released, it had expected a different list in terms of the severity of the freed prisoners' sentences and the type of prisoners released.
Abu Ein said that the list was not enough to restore the Palestinian people's trust in the diplomatic process, adding that it encouraged extremism as it conveyed the message that Israel only agrees to release "heavy" prisoners when Israelis are kidnapped.
The prisoner release was approved by the High Court of Justice on Thursday evening. Rejecting a petition filed by the Almagor Terror Victims Association, the judges said that the release was a government decision and that they must not interfere in it.
The decision was made according to the ruling of Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin, who was joined by Justice Salim Joubran. Justice Elyakim Rubinstein opposed the decision.
Rubinstein wrote that he could not agree with his colleagues, and asked to issue a conditional order, claiming that all the required explanations for this sensitive issue had not been received.
"I reviewed the list of the candidates for release published by the Justice Ministry on the internet, which I believe most of the public does not review. A significant number of them were convicted for the most severe and serious offenses, such as shooting at a person, attempting to intentionally cause death and even attempted murders, not to mention offenses of using weapons or planting a bomb."
According to Rubinstein, the people on the list were not "go-getters or people convicted of smoking inside a cinema."
Ali Waked contributed to the report