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If hundreds of terrorists are released in exchange for abducted IDF Cpl. Gilad Schalit they will pose an immediate threat to Israeli cities and settlements, a high-ranking defense official told The Jerusalem Post.
Some 1,400 Palestinian security prisoners are on the list of those whose release is demanded by the captors of Schalit, who has been held in the Gaza Strip since June 25.
Should the government accede to the demand, the official said, the IDF would need to modify the way it operates in the West Bank, where the changes would mostly be felt in the Central Command.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has expressed "disappointment and reservations" over the list of prisoners, which is said to include as many as 450 murderers.
A team made up of representatives from the Shin Bet, the Prime Minister's Office and the Justice Ministry is reviewing the criteria for releasing security prisoners in any potential exchange for Schalit. Issues being considered include the terrorist act committed and the amount of time the prisoner has served in jail.
"The Palestinians in prison have the terror know-how and the influence over the terror groups," the defense official said. "If they are released they will be taking those qualities with them and we will need to be prepared."
According to the official, the IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) would need to closely follow the Palestinians once they are released from prison. While it would be a government-level decision to release the prisoners, he said, the defense establishment would not hesitate to arrest any of the released prisoners if they resumed their terror activity.
"If they are suddenly good people then we will leave them alone," the official said. "But if they return to dealing in terrorism then we will arrest them."
The remarks came a day after the Post reported that Hamas had recently begun trying to establish a military force in the West Bank similar to the 10,000-strong army it has set up in the Gaza Strip.â€¢