JERUSALEM: Israelis opposed to a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas sought Supreme Court intervention on Monday to block the release of hundreds of jailed Palestinians in return for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The first phase of the swap, to take place on Tuesday, should bring to a close a saga that has gripped Israelis over the five years of Shalit's captivity in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. But under Israeli law, those against the planned release of 477 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were convicted of deadly attacks, can appeal before the exchange is carried out.
Four petitions were filed with the Supreme Court by the Almagor Terror Victims Association and relatives of Israelis killed in Palestinian attacks. Judging from similar appeals in prisoner exchange deals in the past, the court is unlikely to intervene in what it considers a political and security issue.
An opinion poll in the popular Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth found that 79 percent of the public supported the deal with Hamas, an Islamist group that advocates Israel's destruction.
Hamas prepared a heroes' welcome in Gaza for 295 of the prisoners due to be sent to the territory. Palestinians regard brethren jailed by Israel as prisoners of war in a struggle for statehood. Israel holds some 6,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Shalit, now 25, was captured in 2006 by militants who tunnelled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and surprised his tank crew, killing two of his comrades.
Israel, which withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, tightened its blockade of the coastal territory after he was seized and spirited into the Gaza Strip.
The repatriation of captured soldiers, alive or dead, has long been an emotionally charged issue for Israelis, many of whom have served in the military. But they also feel a sting over the high price they feel Israel paid for Shalit.