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Israel To Free 550 Palestinians In Shalit Swap

Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit (center) being hugged by his father Noam (right) for the first time in five years on October 18.
Israel is set to release 550 Palestinian prisoners in the second stage of a deal with Hamas that brought home soldier Gilad Shalit after five years of captivity in the Gaza Strip.

While many of the 450 prisoners freed on October 18 in the first phase of the Egyptian-brokered exchange were serving life sentences for deadly attacks, none in the second group was convicted of killings.

Israel's Supreme Court opened the way for the December 18 release to go ahead by turning down a petition on December 16 from Israelis opposed to freeing the prisoners, whose terms ranged from a few months to 18 years.

Shalit was kidnapped in June 2006 by militants who tunneled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and surprised his tank crew, killing two of his comrades.

He was held in the Hamas-controlled territory until his release two months ago.

compiled from agency reports