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Israel's High Court backs prisoner-swap deal

(Xinhua)

08:16, October 18, 2011

JERUSALEM, Oct. 17 (Xinhua) -- Israel's High Court of Justice on Monday night denied four petitions against a deal that would set free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian and Arab prisoners.

After nearly a whole day's hearing and deliberation, the court decided to reject four petitions filed against the prisoner-swap, paving the way for the implementation of the deal's first phase, which will see the release of Shalit and 477 Arab and Palestinian security prisoners.

The plaintiffs claimed that the deal, signed with the Islamic movement Hamas in Cairo last week, is an affront to the bereaved families of victims of terror attacks and will serve to encourage future attacks. The opponents are urging the court to delay the Palestinian and Arab prisoners' release to enable more discussion on the deal's implications for Israel's security.

According to the terms of the agreement, the remaining prisoners will be freed within two months.

While 79 percent of the Israeli public rallied behind the deal, according to a Ynet news poll published Monday, many have voiced concern over the high price Israel may have to pay in the future.

Some 280 of the Palestinian prisoners slated for release are serving consecutive life terms for their involvement in dozens of militant attacks that claimed the lives of more than a thousand Israelis between 2000 and 2005.

That fact has raised the ire of many Israelis, especially those who have lost family members to such attacks.

In a bid to quell the outrage, Netanyahu on Monday sent a letter to families of terror victims, stating that he empathized with their pain.

Recalling the fact that he himself lost his brother in a military operation 35 years ago, the prime minister wrote in his letter that "numerous misgivings" accompanied him throughout the negotiations that led to the deal's signing.

"The decision in the matter of the release of Gilad Shalit was among the most difficult that I have ever made. It is difficult for me for the same reasons that it is difficult for you, dear families," the letter read.

Netanyahu explained that his responsibility as prime minister " to bring home every soldier who is sent to protect our citizens" ultimately tipped the scale in favor of approving the deal.

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