Associated Press
The Washington Post (Analysis)
October 17, 2011 - 12:00am

Israelis overwhelmingly support a lopsided prisoner swap in which 1,027 Palestinian prisoners will be released for a single captured soldier, a poll showed Monday, one day before the exchange between Israel and Hamas was slated to take place.

The poll showed that 79 percent of Israelis support the deal under which the soldier, tank crewman Sgt. Gilad Schalit, 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.

Several families of victims filed court appeals against the prisoner swap, and Israel’s Supreme Court convened to hold a hearing on them Monday.

Relatives of Israelis killed in Palestinan attacks were present in the courtroom, hoping the judges would halt the exchange. Noam Schalit, the soldier’s father, also attended.

The court was not expected to accept the appeals, however, or delay the implementation of the swap.

The prisoners to be released include Ahlam Tamimi, a woman who drove a suicide bomber to a crowded Jerusalem pizzeria in 2001. The bomber 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.

Palestinian politicians have largely tried to portray the swap as an achievement for all Palestinians, playing down the deep divides between Hamas, which held the soldier and negotiated the deal, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement. The two groups lead rival governments, Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.

However, some Palestinians have attacked the deal for excluding prominent prisoners and for favoring Hamas members over Fatah.

One imprisoned Fatah leader left out of the swap, Marwan Barghouti, who was sentenced by an Israeli court to five life terms for directing deadly attacks, criticized the deal in remarks relayed by his lawyer.

Barghouti has been seen as a possible successor to Abbas, but his exclusion from the swap could jeopardize his leadership ambitions.

Barghouti “thinks it was possible to achieve something better,” said lawyer Elias Sabagh after meeting with the imprisoned leader on Sunday. Barghouti noted that “the deal excluded about 120 prisoners with long sentences in Israeli prisons, including the leaders.”

Another Fatah official close to Barghouti, Kadura Fares, also criticized the deal in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio. He said that only several dozen of the 477 prisoners to be released Tuesday were from Fatah, and the rest mostly from Hamas.


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