Israel will release 980 prisoners in exchange for captive soldier Gilad Schalit, the state said Sunday in a court document, which provided the public with the first tangible details of the much-anticipated prisoner swap with Hamas.
According to the document, the swap will take place in two stages. First, Israel will release 450 prisoners whose names were listed by Hamas and whose releases were being considered on a case-by-case basis "according to security and value-oriented considerations."
In the second stage, Israel will release a further 530 prisoners, of its choice, in a unilateral gesture to the Palestinian people.
The information was included in a response the state gave Sunday to a High Court of Justice petition filed last week by three bereaved fathers who lost children in a Haifa suicide bombing in 2003.
Four Hamas terrorists have since been indicted for their involvement in that bombing, which killed 17 people. But even as the media continues to report on an imminent deal, the three fathers have been unable to find out if those four terrorists are on the list of prisoners that would be released.
The three fathers, along with the Almagor terror victims' association petitioned the court last week to force the state to disclose the details of the pending prisoner exchange.
They have also asked the court to order the state to stop using the military censor to keep information about the negotiations secret from the public.
On Monday the High Court of Justice is set to hear the petition. In advance of that hearing, the state on Sunday informed the State Prosecutor's Office that it believed that censoring the prisoner list was necessary and should be upheld.
Attorney Naftali Werzberger, who represents the bereaved parents, accused the state of censoring the details to prevent public scrutiny of the deal.
"The release of terrorists should not be done without full public disclosure because it it the public that will pay the price," Werzberger told The Jerusalem Post.
Almagor has claimed that at least 180 Israelis have been killed by terrorists released in past prisoner swaps.
Although the state must disclose the names once the deal is finalized and the public is given 48 hours to challenge the list, the parents contend that this timeframe is too tight to properly appeal and that the information should be released earlier.
Yossi Zur, whose son Asaf, 17, was killed in the 2003 attack, said that any information that can be given to Hamas could not constitute a security risk and should be publicized.
On Saturday, Voice of Palestine radio reported that Schalit, who has been held in Gaza since June 2006, could be moved from Gaza to Egypt in the coming days, ahead of the prisoner exchange.
But on Sunday, Hamas said that more time was needed to finalize the deal.
Schalit's parents, Noam and Aviva Schalit, met with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday as part of their continued effort to lobby ministers to support the deal.
"We are neither encouraged nor the opposite. We're still waiting," Noam Schalit said after the meeting.
"We have nothing new. We're continuing to meet with all the members of the government," he said, adding that he hoped to conclude the meetings "by the end of the week."
Among the obstacles between Hamas and Israel is the terror group's demand that Israel release Fatah operative Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms in prison, and Ahmed Sa'dat, the secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who masterminded the 2001 assassination of tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi.
But because the list of prisoners has been censored, it is unclear if the two men are on the list.
In its response to the court, the state defended this silence.
"The authorization of this exchange is subject to the discretion of the government that will rely on a variety of political and security aspects," reads the response. "As negotiations mature and the sides reach agreements regarding the list of prisoners involved in the deal and the government approves them, a list of names will be released to the general public."
The state argued that ambiguity was a necessary precaution when negotiating with enemies.
"The military censor is allowed to forbid the publication of a news item, when it has decided that there is near certainty that its publication will substantially harm the possibility of Gilad Schalit's safe return to Israel or it has decided that there is near certainty that its publication will influence the 'price' Israel will have to pay for his release in a way that may substantially harm the country's security."
"Past experience teaches that when the details of this type of negotiation are discussed in the media it leads to the polarization of the other side, in a way that makes bridging the differences difficult, and harms, and at times may even negate, the possibility of achieving the aims of the negotiations - the return of the abducted soldier alive and well to his home and homeland as soon as possible," read the state's response.
"We will add that the sides promised the foreign liaison, as a prerequisite for negotiations, that the details of the negotiations would be handled with utmost discretion, to allow him to manage an effective dialog between the sides without media interference," it read.
The response also stated that the censor had done nothing to reduce the vital public debate that was taking place surrounding the rumors of an upcoming deal.
"Anyone who has been living in this country since Gilad Schalit's abduction, and especially during the last few weeks, knows that all they need do is glance at the front page of a newspaper or listen to the news programs on the electronic media or surf the Internet, to be aware of a very lively public debate taking place surrounding the heavy price that will be paid to return Gilad Schalit home to his family," it concluded.
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