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Middle East

Palestinian prisoner swap completed

Israel is preparing to free 550 Palestinian prisoners this weekend in the final part of a swap deal with Hamas for the Jewish soldier Gilad Shalit.

The country has largely excluded high-profile members of Fatah, the party led by the moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, from the exchange. The latest tranche, selected solely by Israel, is understood to comprise mainly those who have served more than two-thirds of their sentences and who were jailed for committing minor security offences.

Israel freed 450 prisoners – many of them serving life sentences – in the first phase of the deal in mid-October. In exchange, it secured the immediate release of Sgt Shalit, who was abducted in a cross-border raid by Palestinian militants five years ago, and held in captivity in Gaza ever since.

It had initially been anticipated that Israel's right-wing government would use the opportunity to make a gesture to Mr Abbas by freeing prominent members of his party, but officials have made clear that the moderate Palestinian leadership would not be rewarded for pursuing its unilateral statehood bid at the United Nations.