A member of Palestinian prisoner Nasser Nazzal's family shows his picture
A member of Palestinian prisoner Nasser Nazzal's family shows his picture at a relative's house in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis, as they await his release as part of a deal to secure the exchange of Israeli captive soldier Gilad Shalit. Under a prisoner swap deal signed with Israel, Hamas will free Shalit, held in Gaza since 2006, in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. © Said Khatib - AFP
A member of Palestinian prisoner Nasser Nazzal's family shows his picture
Last updated: October 16, 2011

Gaza prepares to receive prisoners as 'heroes'

Palestinian groups are planning celebrations to mark Israel's imminent release of hundreds of prisoner "heroes" in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Israeli President Shimon Peres received late Saturday the files of Palestinians prisoners to be pardoned as part of the deal for Shalit's release, his office said.

On Tuesday, 477 Palestinian prisoners, including 27 women, are expected to be freed in the first stage of a deal for the return of Sergeant Shalit, who has been held for more than five years by Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Gaza's Hamas rulers plan to release Shalit, captured in a cross-border raid in 2006, with the understanding that another 550 Palestinian prisoners will walk free within two months.

A spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees told a news conference in Gaza that "all organisations have agreed to begin preparations for the reception of the prisoners, to receive them like heroes with official and popular celebrations."

The armed Palestinian group says it is holding the Israeli soldier.

"The organisations expressed their pride in this agreement that Hamas reached with Israel, with the mediation of Egypt, and applauded the heroes who kidnapped Gilad Shalit," the spokesman added, reading a statement.

"They said they would continue to make every effort to free every prisoner held in Israel jails."

According to Israeli media, the justice ministry will publish early Sunday the official list of the first 477 Palestinian prisoners to be released.

But Peres will not sign the pardons for another two days to allow the Israeli public time to lodge any legal appeals against individual Palestinian prisoners included in the deal, the spokeswoman said.

The court has not in the past blocked a government decision on prisoner exchanges.

Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official, for his part said that the "dossier of prisoners remains the priority."

Radwan said an official welcoming ceremony would be held at Rafah, the crossing point between the south of Gaza and Egypt "with the participation of Hamas and all organisations."

"The festivities will then continue in the Gaza Strip," he added.

The Israeli sergeant's father, Noam Shalit, warned against premature celebrations in the Jewish state, stressing that "it's not done until it's done."

Shalit's relatives will await the 25-year-old soldier, who also has French nationality, at the family home in Mitzpe Hila, in northern Israel.

The defence minister said Shalit would be automatically recognised as a victim of post-traumatic stress, rather than an invalided former combatant as had previously been suggested.

A spokeswoman for Peres told AFP that the Israeli president was only currently considering the cases of prisoners from the Gaza Strip and inside Israel.

The rest -- prisoners from the West Bank and east Jerusalem -- would need to be pardoned by the Israeli military's central command chief, Major General Avi Mizrahi, she said.

A private television network poll showed that more than two thirds of Israelis approve of the prisoner swap deal made with Hamas.

A poll commissioned by Channel 10 found that 69 percent of Israelis back the exchange of Shalit for some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, 32 percent oppose it and the remainder gave no opinion.

While supporting the deal, 62 percent of respondents said the release of Palestinian prisoners would "worsen Israel's security situation." But 32 percent said it would have "no impact."

On the wider issue of forging a durable solution in the region, the United States said Friday that progress is being made toward reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks before the end of the month.

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