12/15/2011 03:25 am ET | Updated Feb 14, 2012

Israel-Hamas Prisoner Swap: Second Stage Of Deal Nears

* First phase of prisoner exchange completed in October

* Prisoners to be released on Sunday

JERUSALEM, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Israel began
preparations on Thursday to release 550 Palestinian prisoners in
the second stage of a deal with Hamas that brought home soldier
Gilad Shalit after five years of captivity in the Gaza Strip.

Israel's Prisons Service posted on its website the list of
prisoners whose jail terms are to be cut and a spokeswoman said
they would be assembled in two jails prior to release on Sunday.

Israeli citizens have 48 hours to contest the releases in
court, though historically the judiciary has chosen not to
intervene in prisoner exchanges which it views as a political

In the first stage of the Egyptian-mediated prisoner
exchange, the most lopsided in Israel's history, 450
Palestinians were released on Oct. 18 in return for Shalit.

While many of those freed in the first phase of the deal
were serving life sentences for deadly attacks, none of the
prisoners to be released in the second stage was convicted of
killings. Their terms ranged from a few months to 18 years.

Shalit was abducted in June 2006 by militants who tunnelled
into Israel from the Gaza Strip and surprised his tank crew,
killing two of his comrades. He was held incommunicado in the
Hamas-ruled territory and huge majority of Israelis backed the
deal to bring him home.

The Prisons Service said nearly all the Palestinians to be
released on Sunday -- whose convictions include attempted
murder, planting bombs and membership in militant groups -- come
from the West Bank where Hamas's rival, the Fatah movement of
Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas, is dominant.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, edited by Richard Meares)


Photos: Landmark prisoner swap

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