Israel struck a landmark deal with the Hamas this month under which it was agreed to swap 1,027 Palestinian prisoners with Shalit, the Israeli soldier under Hamas' captivity for over five years. The first of 477 Palestinian prisoners started leaving their jails early in the morning, Haaretz.com reported.
The remaining 550 are scheduled to be released next month. Among the prisoners to be released are militants involved in deadly bombings and other attacks targeting Israeli civilians and soldiers. Shalit, now 25, was abducted in June 2006 by militants who tunneled into Israel from the Gaza Strip.
The 477 Palestinian prisoners will be taken to the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Egypt. Egypt, which helped broker the deal, will receive Shalit from his Hamas captors and hand him over to Israel at the same time as the 477 Palestinians are officially released.
The high court late yesterday rejected four appeals against the release, one made by a terrorist victims' group, lifting one of the last obstacles to the prisoner swap. Israelis reacted with mixed emotions on the prisoner swap deal with Hamas, with many viewing it as a capitulation to terror.