The second phase of the deal that secured the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas captivity was completed Sunday night with the release of an additional 550 Palestinian prisoners.
Israel released a total of 1,027 male and female Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit. Most of the prisoners returned to the West Bank. The rest - with the exception of a few prisoners who were transferred to Jordan – were released to Gaza.
Meanwhile, some 2,000 people gathered at the Mukataa compound in Ramallah, where, along with Fatah leaders, they greeted the prisoners who arrived aboard dozens of buses. Prior to the reception, the Palestinian prisoners visited Yasser Arafat's tomb. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was not on hand because he is visiting Turkey.
During the rally in Ramallah, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, the Palestinian Authority's secretary-general, praised the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah.
Hamas parliamentary Speaker Aziz Dweik, who also attended the rally, mentioned the Hamas MPs who were still imprisoned in Israel. "Every Palestinian deserves freedom, regardless of whether he is an MP or not," he told the crowd.
Gazans celebrate prisoners' release (Photo: Reuters)
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Abu Obaida told a press conference following the completion of the Shalit deal "we've released 20% of the prisoners for one soldier. The Palestinian resistance's goal is to free all the prisoners from Israeli jails."
Earlier Sunday, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition filed by the Almagor Terror Victims Association against the release of the Palestinian prisoners, effectively green-lighting the second phase of the deal.
The judges said in their ruling that the court does not intervene in the authorities' considerations, adding that it "should not determine whether it is preferable to release prisoners who belong to Hamas or those who belong to Fatah." On Thursday the court rejected a similar petition filed by terror victims' families.
On Sunday President Shimon Peres signed clemency orders for 43 of the Palestinian security prisoners who were released as part of the deal.
Apart from the 505 Palestinian prsioenrs who were released to the West Bank, 41 prisoners were released to Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, two were transferred to Jordan via the Allenby crossing, and two more returned to east Jerusalem.
Defense establishment officials stressed that none of the 550 inmates who were released are affiliated with Hamas, and that none were defined as having "blood on their hands."
Most of the Palestinian prisoners were jailed for throwing Molotov cocktails and stones, and about 400 of them have already completed two-thirds of their sentences.
However, the group of prisoners did include Salah Hamouri, who plotted to murder Rabba Ovadia Yosef, and Taltal Na'asan, a senior Force 17 member who was arrested in 2001 and confessed to taking part in shooting attacks and planning to plant bombs in the Ramallah region.
Another prisoner who took part in deadly terror activity and was released nonetheless is Darwis Dadar, a Tanzim operative who was arrested in 2004. He was involved in a suicide bombing on King George Street in Jerusalem in 2002. The attack claimed the lives of three Israelis.
Jaber Badr, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who planned to carry out a suicide attack against Israel in 2007 as revenge for Israel's policies regarding the Temple Mount, was also released Sunday.
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