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The Mideast

Israelis Opposed to Palestinian Prisoner Exchange Reportedly Seek High Court Intervention

Israelis opposed to a planned prisoner exchange with Hamas reportedly sought High Court intervention on Monday to block the release of hundreds of jailed Palestinians in return for Sgt. Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in June 2006.

The High Court convened at noon local time to consider four petitions filed by the Almagor Terror Victims Association and relatives of Israelis killed in Palestinian attacks. Judging from similar appeals in prior prisoner exchange deals, the court is unlikely to intervene in what it considers a political and security issue, Haaretz.com reports.

In a letter sent on Monday to hundreds of families of terror victims, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed understanding and empathy for the families, but stated that he is "obligated to return a soldier sent out to protect Israel."

The first phase of the swap -- set 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 of the 1,027 Palestinian prisoners set for release -- many of whom were convicted of deadly attacks -- can appeal before the exchange is carried out, Haaretz.com reports.

Meanwhile, Israelis overwhelmingly support the lopsided prisoner swap, a poll showed Monday.

The poll showed that 79 percent of Israelis support the deal under which Shalit will be released by the Hamas militants who have held him in Gaza for more than five years. Only 14 percent said they opposed the deal.

The poll was carried out by the Dahaf Institute and published in the daily Yediot Ahronot on Monday. Pollsters interviewed 500 respondents, and the margin of error was 4.4 percentage points.

The level of support is striking, not only because of the uneven nature of the exchange, but among those to be freed in return for the soldier are Palestinian militants responsible for some of the deadliest attacks against Israelis in recent memory.

The prisoners to be released include Ahlam Tamimi, a woman who drove a suicide bomber to a crowded Jerusalem pizzeria in 2001. He killed 15 people, including seven children and teenagers.

Also on the list are Abdel Aziz Salha, who was photographed raising his bloody hands to a cheering crowd after killing two Israeli soldiers who accidentally drove into the West Bank city of Ramallah in 2000; Nasser Yateima, a mastermind of a hotel bombing that killed 30 people celebrating the Passover holiday in 2002; and Ibrahim Younis, who planned a 2003 suicide bombing in a Jerusalem cafe that killed seven people, including an American-born doctor and his daughter who were celebrating on the eve of the young woman's wedding.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click to read more on this report from Haaretz.com.