(Updates with court ending session in first paragraph.)
Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Israeli opponents of a planned exchange of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for a captive Israeli soldier made a last-ditch legal attempt today to block the deal.
Israel’s High Court of Justice heard arguments to halt the swap with the Islamic Hamas movement from lawyers representing Israeli families whose relatives have been killed in Palestinian attacks. The session was adjourned and a decision will be announced later today, said court spokeswoman Ayelet Filo.
Barring a court injunction, Israel is expected to release 477 Palestinians tomorrow in exchange for Shalit, 25, who has been held by Hamas since being captured more than five years ago, Israel Prison Service spokeswoman Sivan Weizman said. Another 550 Palestinian prisoners will be freed within the next two months, according to the agreement. Hundreds of soldiers were moved to the south yesterday to prepare for the exchange.
“Israelis generally support bringing Gilad Shalit home but the people who oppose the deal have been hurt by terrorism and are very passionate,” Efraim Kam, deputy director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, said in an interview. He said he expected the judges won’t block the exchange.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet last week approved the agreement, which comes amid U.S. attempts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Middle East envoy Tony Blair has said the swap may facilitate efforts to restart negotiations by creating a better atmosphere.
The agreement is supported by 79 percent of Israelis and opposed by 14 percent, a poll published today by the Yediot Aharonot newspaper showed. The telephone survey of 500 Israeli adults conducted by the Tel Aviv-based Dahaf Public Opinion Research Institute, had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points. Six percent had no opinion or declined to answer.
In Bern, Switzerland, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a news conference today that the prisoner exchange “is very welcome.”
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with senior army commanders yesterday to prepare for Shalit’s return and ensure that the Palestinian prisoner release goes smoothly, his office said in an e-mailed statement. Barak said that he anticipates that Shalit will be freed tomorrow.
Prisoners Sent Abroad
Most of the prisoners expected to be released in the first phase of the exchange have been brought to Israel’s maximum- security Ketziot facility in the Negev desert, Weizman said. The 27 women among the detainees are being taken to Hasharon Prison north of Tel Aviv.
Terms of the prisoner swap accord include sending about 40 of the Palestinian prisoners abroad. Others will be allowed to return to their homes in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
Among those due for release on a list made public by the prison service are Walid Anajas, convicted for his involvement in the 2002 bombing of the Moment Cafe in which 11 people were killed, and Husam Badran, a Hamas commander responsible for the 2001 bombing of Tel Aviv’s Dolphinarium dance club in which 21 were killed.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls the West Bank, has refused to restart negotiations until Israel halts settlement building and is instead pursuing statehood recognition at the United Nations, a step that is popular in Gaza and the West Bank and opposed by Israel and the U.S.
Shalit, who has both Israeli and French citizenship, was abducted June 25, 2006, after Palestinian militants fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the tank in which he was posted outside Gaza. Two other Israeli soldiers were killed in the cross-border raid.
--With assistance from Jennifer M. Freedman in Geneva. Editors: Louis Meixler, Ann Hughey, Heather Langan, Ben Holland.
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