Prisoner exchange is condemned by bereaved Israelis

Bereaved relatives of those killed in terror attacks yesterday petitioned Israel's Supreme Court to halt a prisoner exchange deal after the government published the names of the first batch of Palestinian prisoners to be released in exchange for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The prisoners, some of them responsible for the deadliest attacks on Israeli soil, are due to be freed tomorrow after Hamas, the Islamist rulers of Gaza, hand over Sergeant Shalit, who was captured by Gaza-based militants more than five years ago.

Israelis have 48 hours to appeal against the swap following the publication of a list of 477 Palestinians to be freed in the first tranche of 1,027 prisoners.

"We think this deal will bring more casualties," Meir Indor, head of the Almagor Terror Victims Association, said yesterday, after submitting a petition calling for more time to study the list. "The terrorists know they win by kidnapping. It will lead to more kidnapping of soldiers."

But their objections are not expected to delay the deal, which has broadly been met with jubilation in Israel, bringing an end to a painful saga.

The prisoner exchange has revived painful memories for families who have lost relatives, particularly during the second intifada, an uprising marked by the bombing of buses, restaurants and hotels that killed and maimed hundreds of civilians. Militants due to be released include those involved in the 2002 bombing of a Tel Aviv nightclub that killed 21 and the bombing of a hotel in the coastal city of Netanya in 2002 that left 30 dead.

"This is a total surrender, by the Israeli government and by the justice system," said Ron Kehrmann, a petitioner whose 17-year-old daughter Tal was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber in 2003. "This is not the way to fight terror. This is not a personal thing," he said, adding that previous prisoner exchanges had been followed by a renewed wave of Palestinian violence. "My daughter is in a very safe place, but I worry for the people who are still living. Israelis will pay for this with their lives."

Others said it was a betrayal of their relatives' memories. "These past few days I have been very down," said Yossi Mendelevich, whose son was killed in a bomb blast in Haifa in 2003. "I have been having nightmares, it is like they are killing my son all over again."

The government has already started to take Palestinians up for release to two jails in southern and central Israel. Female prisoners being transferred prior to their release made the V-for-victory sign as they were driven out of a prison in northern Israel yesterday.

Among those due to be released were Nasser Yataima, who was given 29 life terms for the Netanya bombing, Amneh Muna, a Palestinian girl who lured a 16-year-old boy to his death, and Abed al-Aziz Salaha, who was photographed with his hands covered in blood after the lynching of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah. Excluded from the list was Marwan Barghouti, a popular unifying figure seen as a potential successor to Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas.