Israel is transferring the first 477 prisoners to Palestinian territories now that Sgt. Gilad Schalit is back in Israel safe and sound. The Israeli military and Palestinians waiting to greet released prisoners have clashed on the West Bank.
A number Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli troops at the Betonia border checkpoint. It has been reported that some relatives and others who came to support the returned inmates began throwing stones at soldiers, who retaliated by deploying tear gas.
As the first released Palestinian prisoners out of almost 500 crossed the border with Egypt and entered Gaza, they were met by thousands of happy people carrying flowers. Relatives have been crying, kissing and hugging their loved ones, who they are seeing for the first time after the many years away from each other.
Ex-prisoners were greeted in the same way in Ramallah on the West Bank, where Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority was also present.
On Tuesday morning the transfer of the first group of Palestinian prisoners to be released took off in heavily guarded convoys. Having arrived at Kerem Shalom (a border crossing near the meeting of the Gaza Strip-Israel-Egypt borders) they were taken to Egypt, where authorities there monitored their arrival in Gaza. All those agreed to be released within the first phase of the swap arrived at the Ofer Prison near Ramallah.
The vehicles that left a jail in central Israel carried female inmates, most of whom were to be freed in the West Bank. Egyptian security, under the terms of mediating the deal, accompanied them. All border crossings were declared closed military zones in preparation for the transaction.
Twenty-seven females and 96 males were taken to Ofer prison in the West Bank. Six male prisoners will be released to their homes in Israel. Three will be released from the Megido prison, two from the Ayalon prison, and one from the Katzrin jail in the Golan Heights.
Under the deal between the Israeli and Palestinian sides Gilad Shalit is to be swapped for 1,027 Palestinians, which shocked the families of militant attacks victims.
Earlier this week, after the list was published, Israel’s radio and television stations turned to detailing the deadly attacks the pardoned prisoners were convicted of. Many of them were jailed for plotting suicide bombings or gun attacks.
Israelis who objected to the release of the prisoners had 48 hours to appeal to Israel’s highest court after the official list of Palestinians to be freed was published on Sunday.
Several families of victims of militant attacks filed court appeals against the prisoner swap. Israel’s Supreme Court had a hearing on them on Monday. Relatives of those killed in Palestinian attacks were present in the courtroom as well as Gilad Shalit’s father. But the deal, having won strong public support, was unlikely to have been canceled and Tuesday saw the start of it.
However, according to the Almagor Terror Victims’ Association, the swap dishonors the victims of Palestinian attacks and will only lead to more kidnappings and violence. The Association’s petition to the High Court, aimed at canceling – or at least delaying – the deal, said 48 hours was too short a time to scrutinize the list and prepare an appeal.