Israeli court upholds freeing Palestinian prisoners: reports

Israeli court upholds freeing Palestinian prisoners: reports

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. The court said that the decision to exchange prisoners rests with the government, Israeli military radio reported.

"The government alone is responsible for the security of the state, its soldiers and citizens," the judges said, according to the radio.

The court heard the appeals throughout the day in an emotionally charged atmosphere and with Noam Shalit, the father of the soldier held for more than five years in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, in attendance.

In all, Israel is due to free 1,027 Palestinians under the terms of the hard-won deal for Shalit's freedom, hundreds of them serving life sentences for killing Israelis, in what will be the highest price ever paid by the Jewish state for one person.

If all goes to plan, it will be the first time in 26 years that a captured soldier has been returned to the Jewish state alive.

In Israel, the nation was eagerly awaiting the return of the now 25-year-old soldier, who has been held incommunicado ever since his capture by three Gaza-based militant groups in a deadly cross-border raid in 2006.

Preparations for a big celebrations were also under way across the Palestinian territories to welcome home militants regarded as heroes among their own people.

A poll released on yesterday found that eight out of 10 Israelis backed the deal, with just 14 per cent saying they disagreed with it.

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