Palestine Welcomes Released Prisoners

The first phase of the Palestinian-Israeli prisoner exchange took place on Tuesday morning where hundreds of Palestinian inmates were swapped across the border in exchange of the detained Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The deal will end the much publicized five year long captivity of Shalit in Gaza and see the release of 477 Palestinians at this stage. Shalit was handed over to Egypt, who helped broker the deal, before being returned to Israel. On Monday Israel's Supreme Court allowed the deal to go ahead after rejecting petitions from the public calling on the halt to the release of prisoners serving life sentences for deadly attacks. A majority of the Palestinian inmates who were held in Israel's southern Negev desert left in a heavily guarded convoy. Female prisoners in another prison left from the center of the country. The prisoners were released in Kerem Shalom crossing which borderrs Egypt and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip as well as the West Bank. According to officials the second phase of the prisoner exchange is expected to take place in two months, and will see the release of a further 550 Palestinian prisoners. Over 6,000 Palestinian prisoners are held in Israel. In Gaza, Hamas was prepared to welcome the 295 prisoners released on Tuesday. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri referred to the moment the prisoners were leaving their jails as "a historic" one. "We consider these as historic and unique moments. The high price that the Palestinian nation had to pay has not gone to waste; we are harvesting now as these prisoners are being released. Their release was once a dream for many people but it is real now," Abu Zuhri added. Of the prisoners, 41 will be exiled to Turkey, Qatar and Syria. By: Nadia Idriss Mayen Al Arabiya with Agencies

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