JERUSALEM â€” Israeli soldier Gilad Shalitâ€™s five-year captivity ended early Tuesday after the young man was turned over to Egyptian mediators as part of a prisoner swap that will eventually see the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, according to Egyptian and Palestinian media reports.
The Israeli-Palestinian prisoner swap began in the predawn hours as Israel started transporting 477 Palestinian detainees in heavily guarded convoys from jails to various Red Cross meeting points, Israel Radio reported.
Under the terms of the deal, the first 27, all female detainees, would be turned over to Red Cross officials after Shalit was freed.
Once Shalit, 25, is brought back to Israeli soil, the next stage â€” involving about 450 detainees â€” is expected to begin.
Most of the prisoners â€” including about 280 serving life sentences for terrorism and murder â€” are headed for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, where massive celebrations await them. Some will be deported to foreign countries. Israel pledged to free an additional 550 within two months.
After receiving a medical checkup, Shalit â€” who was captured by Palestinian militants in a cross-border raid near the Gaza Strip in 2006 â€” will be flown to Tel Nof air base for a meeting with his parents and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Late Monday, Israelâ€™s Supreme Court rejected, as expected, a last-minute court challenge to the swap. The petition was filed by relatives of victims of attacks. Many Israelis fear released prisoners will resume their attacks against Israel.
During an emotionally charged hearing Monday, some people confronted Noam Shalit, the soldierâ€™s father, who pleaded with the court to not block the deal. â€œOur sonâ€™s blood is on your hands,â€ shouted one family member of a victim of an attack carried out by a Palestinian prisoner expected to be released Tuesday.
In a public letter to families of victims of violence, Netanyahu said Monday that the swap deal was one of the most difficult decisions he has ever made. â€œI hope that you will find solace that I and the entire nation of Israel embrace you and share your pain,â€ he wrote.