Israel on Sunday issued a list of 477 Palestinian prisoners to be released as part of the deal to secure Gilad Shalit’s freedom, among them bombers, kidnappers and killers.
Hundreds of those on the list are serving life terms after being convicted of involvement in attacks, including the 2001 bombing of a Tel Aviv nightclub that killed 21 people and the so-called Passover bombing of a hotel in the coastal town of Netanya hotel where 29 people died a year later.
Also among those to be freed are members of Hamas’s armed wing convicted of kidnapping and killing Israeli soldiers.
Details of the prisoners’ identities were made public just 48 hours before the exchange was expected to take place, although the specific details of the handover were still being worked out, officials said.
Under the agreement signed last Tuesday, Israel is to free a total of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of the 25-year-old soldier, who has been in captivity in Gaza for more than five years.
If the deal goes through, it will be the largest number of Palestinian prisoners ever freed by the Jewish state to secure the release of just one person.
It will also be the first time in 26 years that a captured soldier has been returned to Israel alive.
The list of 450 Palestinian men and 27 women was released early Sunday on the website of the Israeli Prisons Service, in a move which gives the public 48 hours to lodge any legal appeals against the names.
The remaining 550 prisoners are to be freed within two months.
Hamas also published an official prisoners list on its website.
The prisons service said 131 inmates would return to their homes in Gaza and 55 to homes in the West Bank. Another 55 would be permitted to return to their families in the West Bank but with certain restrictions.
Six Arab-Israelis will also be sent home.
But 203 prisoners from the West Bank were to be exiled, with 145 to be transferred to Gaza and 40 to be sent abroad. Another 18 were to be sent to Gaza for three years before being allowed to return to the West Bank.
Israeli President Shimon Peres received the files of the prisoners on Saturday evening to begin working on their official pardons, which must be signed before the exchange expected on Tuesday.
Israelis now have 48 hours to challenge the prisoner release, with the court system saying two new petitions against the deal would be heard at noon on Monday.
One group representing victims of attacks filed a two-part petition on Friday, challenging the principle of releasing so many security prisoners, and also filing suit against the release of individual prisoners.
The Israeli High Court has never overturned any government decision to free prisoners involved in militant attacks.
On Sunday night, Gilad’s mother Aviva Shalit appealed to the bereaved families filing petitions against the deal, in her first address to the media since the government approved the deal last week.
Speaking from her home in Mitzpe Hila, the northern Israeli village where Gilad is to spend his first night after his release on Tuesday, Aviva said her family understood the pain of the bereaved families, but stressed that “any delay, any change, any postponement in the deal could risk Gilad’s life.”
Meanwhile, the High Court on Sunday gave Noam Shalit, father of Gilad, permission to join the state and represent his family as a respondent in the appeals against the deal, filed by bereaved families and organisations representing terror victims.
The mechanics of the exchange were still being hammered out. Israel’s chief negotiator David Meidan returned home from final talks in Cairo on Sunday afternoon and briefed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but no details were made public.
Also on Sunday, Defence Minister Ehud Barak approved the arrangements for transferring Shalit to Israel and those for releasing the Palestinian prisoners, presented to him by the army’s chief of staff Benny Gantz and other generals, a statement from his office said.
Press reports suggested the 27 female prisoners would be freed as Shalit crosses from Gaza into the Sinai, while the main group of 450 prisoners would be freed as Shalit crosses the border from the Sinai into Israel.
He would then be flown to the Tel Nof military base near Tel Aviv to he reunited with his family.
Following publication of the names, the 27 women were transferred from Damun prison in the north to HaSharon in central Israel ahead of their release, officials said.
The women were transported in four buses with blacked out windows, Israel radio said.
The mass release of detainees was expected to spark major celebrations in the West Bank, where three days of official celebrations are planned, and particularly in Gaza, where Hamas officials said they would be welcomed as “heroes.”