December 20, 2011 - 1:00am

A Palestinian jailed by Israel for plotting to kill one of Israel's most influential rabbis said after his release on Sunday that he had no regrets about the path he had chosen.

Salah Hamouri, 26, was one of 550 prisoners freed to complete a deal in which Israel released 1,027 prisoners for soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held captive in the Gaza Strip for more than five years.

Many of the 450 prisoners freed on Oct. 18 under the Egyptian-brokered swap for the soldier had been serving life sentences for deadly attacks.

None of those freed in the second stage, on Sunday, had been convicted of perpetrating any killings, though some such as Hamouri were involved in plotting violence, or involvement in non-lethal attacks.

Hamouri, of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was jailed along with two accomplices in 2005 for seeking to kill former chief Sephardi rabbi Ovadia Yosef, now 91.

"This man is and will remain a symbol of racism and fanaticism in Israel," Hamouri said in an interview with Reuters.

Asked about his imprisonment, Hamouri, whose French mother had appealed to France to help win her son's release, said separation from friends and family had been difficult, but added: "I am certain of the path and the choices that I have chosen."

Yosef has on a few occasions made strong anti-Palestinian remarks and wished death on them.

In a sermon in 2000 Yosef likened Palestinians to snakes, drawing strong rebukes from both Israeli and Palestinian leaders and a year later he said Arabs should "be shelled with destroy them."

In his latest edict in August 2010 Yosef said: "Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) and all these evil people should perish from this earth ... God should strike them and these Palestinians -- evil haters of Israel -- with a plague."

Hamouri's release was conditional on Yosef's consent, which he gave earlier this month, enabling him to go free as part of the deal for Shalit, just several months before his prison term was to have expired.

"This is a final attempt from the occupation to give this racist man a human face," Hamouri said of Rabbi Yosef's nod.

Fluent in French, Hamouri, who also holds a French passport, told Reuters he wanted to go to France to thank those who campaigned for his release.

"Freedom represents life, and to be free now, surrounded with my friends and family, I feel alive and hopeful again," he said.


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