After five years, debate over fate of Gilad Shalit reaches its climax

Parents of imprisoned soldier implore Israeli court to ignore late objections from victims' families

The family of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held in Gaza, yesterday implored Israel's highest court to reject calls to delay a contentious prisoner exchange as the Jewish soldier was poised to return home after more than five years in captivity.

The Supreme Court was last night expected to reject the appeals from families against the deal to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners – some of them involved in the most notorious attacks on Israeli soil – in exchange for the young soldier, captured by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in June 2006.

Noam Shalit, the soldier's father, who wrote in a letter to the court that any delay would put his son's life in jeopardy, braved angry heckling fromthe families of those killed in terror attacks as he arrived at the court to argue for the deal to go ahead. "Hang a black flag over your home in Mitzpe Hila, this is a day of mourning," shouted Shvuel Schijveschuurder, 27, who lost his parents and three siblings in the 2001 suicide bombing of the Sbarro pizza restaurant in Jerusalem, according to Israel media reports.

Sgt Shalit, held incommunicado since his capture, is expected to return to a hero's welcome today in Israel, where the deal has received overwhelming public support. Thousands of Palestinians are also preparing huge celebrations in Gaza and the West Bank to welcome home their relatives, some of whom have sat in Israeli jails for more than 30 years.

The Egypt-brokered prisoner exchange – which will see a first tranche of 477 prisoners freed today in exchange for Sgt Shalit – is the culmination of years of often-fraught negotiations between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist rulers of Gaza. It also concludes a painful chapter for Israelis, many of whom have identified closely with Gilad Shalit, a 19-year-old corporal at the time of his capture.

But some Israelis – particularly those who lost relatives in terror attacks – have openly questioned the high price of the deal, which includes the release of nearly 300 Palestinians serving life terms, warning that it will only put more lives in danger.

In a letter to the families of terror victims, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his decision, saying that he wrote with a "heavy heart". The decision, he said, was one of the most difficult he had ever made.

"I was faced with the responsibility... to bring home every soldier who is sent to protect our citizens," he said.

With emotions running high,several families interrupted the court session to voice their opposition to the deal. "Every Israeli should be worried now," Meir Indor, head of the Almagor group for terror victims' families, said during a break in the hearing.

"We are talking about releasing the masters of terrorism, 450 big shots. That's a big danger to our society."

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Noam Shalit said he understood that this was a "difficult deal" for the families, but added that "unfortunately, suspending the deal won't bring the victims of terror back, but it could condemn Gilad to death."

Israel will initially release 27 women prisoners, and only when Sgt Shalit is in Egyptian hands in the Sinai will the 450 male prisoners be freed, some 300 of them to Gaza. Forty prisoners are to go into exile.

Gilad Shalit, meanwhile, will cross into Israel, where he will undergo a brief medical check, before being flown to the Tel Nof airbase, south of Tel Aviv, where he will reunited with his family.

Case study: 'Israel should protect us'

Sixteen-year-old Shoshi Ben Yishai was returning home from school when a Palestinian gunman opened fire on her bus in Jerusalem 10 years ago. Her father, Yitzhak, says she would still be alive had she not dived on to her best friend, leaving herself exposed to the gunman's shots. "She was willing to sacrifice her life for a friend," he says.

Mr Ben Yishai says his country's leadership has made "a big mistake" in allowing Palestinian militants to go free. "The law is broken," he says. "All the strategies Israel had to fight terror have just collapsed. Israel is supposed to protect its citizens," he says, "so students will not be killed on their way to school, so the lives of men and women living in this country will not be endangered."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable