'Heavy' prisoners: We're on our way to freedom
As reports on impending prisoner exchange deal increase, Palestinian prisoners involved in deadly terror attacks contact their families, inform them they are about to be released in return for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Bereaved parents planning to petition High Court
Meanwhile, Israel is preparing for an expected struggle at the High Court of Justice. Three bereaved parents from Haifa, whose children were murdered in terror attacks, are planning to petition the High Court, demanding that the government be ordered to publish the list of prisoners slated to be released as part of the deal, in order to enable a public and legal discourse on the matter.
The parents have also sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, asking them to publish the details of the impending deal.
At first, Hamas demanded 1,400 prisoners in exchange for Shalit, but according to a recent Fox News report, the deal includes the release of 1,000 prisoners, 450 of whom appear on a list of names submitted by Hamas, including the most "heavy" prisoners.
Israel is expected to select the additional 550 additional prisoners slated to be freed. According to the Fox News report, Israeli rejected 70 of the names submitted by Hamas, and Hamas recently submitted a new list of 70 prisoners, who meet Israel's criteria.
According to a series of recent reports – the latest one by the al-Arabiya network – the deal will be implemented within days, and is expected to be finalized this Friday, the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Fox News, however, quoted a source in the Prime Minister's Office as saying that "the deal has not been completed yet."
Hamas attempted to downplay the reports as well. According to Osama Hamdan, who is in charge of the organization's foreign affairs, the recent progress made in the talks is not enough for the deal to be implemented.
The families of the "heavy" prisoners are preparing for the return of their loved ones. The West Bank prisoners who have contacted their relatives include senior members of Fatah's military wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, including some who have been sentenced to several life terms for carrying out and planning deadly attacks.
One of the prisoners who have contacted their families is responsible for one of the most shocking terror attacks on the al-Aqsa Intifada. The family members do not know, however, whether he will be released to the West Bank or deported abroad.
In general, the prisoners' families are trying to lower expectations as well. One of the relatives noted that the families had already experienced such times in the past, when the deal appeared to be very close but was eventually not implemented.
Bereaved parents: This is a disaster
Meanwhile, three bereaved fathers who lost their children in a terror attack on a bus in Haifa – Yossi Tzur, Yossi Mendelovich and Ron Kerman – are protesting "the serious censorship on any detail regarding the deal for the release of terrorists."
According to the fathers, "The lack of knowledge and the lack of time due to the censorship are causing us great suffering and a feeling of contempt towards the moves taken and the punishments imposed by the legal system on the murderers of our children and the collaborators responsible for our children's murder."
The three parents are threatening to turn to the court "in order to receive reliable information, in real time, about the impending deal, including a list of the prisoners slated to be released from Israeli jails.
The bereaved parents have been joined recently by senior retired Israel Defense Forces officers. On Friday, a group of bereaved parents and retired officers met with Rabbi Chaim Druckman, a prominent Religious Zionism leader, and asked him to join them in their struggle. A similar meeting was held Saturday evening with heads of the national-religious public.
"We are currently busy setting up a coalition of officials and organizations who believe, like we do, that this is a disaster to the people of Israel," Yossi Tzur told Ynet. "There is an awakening in the national-religious public, and I hope this will be beneficial. Obviously, we will also turn to the legal level and petition the High Court, but experience shows that this is more of a formal procedure rather than a practical one. To this day, no deals including the release of terrorists have been stopped by the High Court."
Tzur and the other parents and activists are considering setting up a protest tent in Jerusalem, as they have done in the past, and demonstrating against the release of hundreds of terrorists on the expected deal.
Ahiya Raved contributed to this report