JERUSALEM // A number of Palestinians imprisoned for attacking Israelis are to be released as part of a deal brokered between Israel and Hamas, a television station affiliated with the Islamist group reported.
Among the 1,027 Palestinians to be set free are a number of prisoners who carried out attacks on Israelis, ranging from kidnappings to suicide bombings, which killed scores of people, according to an unofficial list published on Al Aqsa TV's website.
As part of the deal, Hamas will release Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who has become a national icon for being held captive by Hamas for five years. He is expected to be set free on Tuesday in return for a phased release of Palestinian prisoners.
"If everything goes smoothly, on Tuesday he will be home," Tami Shienkman, an Israeli military spokesperson, told the Associated Press.
While many Israelis were pleased at the news of Mr Shalit's release, his impending freedom has stirred concern among some Israelis. They worry that Palestinians from a range of militant groups involved in numerous violent attacks will be set free. Some 300 are serving life sentences.
Among those appearing on Al Aqsa TV's list is Husam Badran, a Hamas leader jailed over a number of attacks on Israelis during the second intifada, including the 2001 suicide bombing of the Dolphinarium nightclub in Tel Aviv. That attack killed 21 people. Another is Mohammad Duglas, who is serving 15 life sentences. One of his convictions included involvement a 2001 suicide attack on a Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem that killed 15 people and wounded dozens more.
Hamas' prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, touted their release as a victory. "If God is willing, we have an appointment with a great Palestinian national wedding, a historical moment, this coming Tuesday," he said yesterday. Israel reportedly plans to set free 27 female prisoners on Tuesday after Hamas releases Mr Shalit into Egypt. Another 450 will then be released once Mr Shalit arrives in Israel, with the remainder of prisoners being let out over the next two months.
An official list of names is expected to be published in the coming days, but as many as 550 members of Hamas' rival faction, Fatah, are also on it, according to an Egyptian diplomat who helped broker the accord.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the diplomat said Cairo persuaded Israel to release "550 prisoners from Fatah" who will be handed to the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, who also serves as Fatah's chairman after two months.
Even so, Palestinians criticised Hamas for making too many compromises in the deal, in which 205 of the released prisoners will not be allowed to return to their homes in the West Bank. Of that number, 163 will be sent to Gaza and 42 will be deported to undisclosed destinations.
"We were very much disappointed that some of them will be transferred to Gaza and will not stay with their families in the West Bank, and other parties will also be deported outside," Riyad Al Malki, the Palestinian Authority foreign minister, told France 24 on Thursday.
Tensions over the deal appeared to rise inside Israel, too. A man yesterday defaced a memorial to the assassinated Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, apparently in protest to the agreement.
The Israeli media identified the suspect as Shvuel Schijveschuurder, 27, who allegedly spray-painted right-wing slogans on the Tel Aviv memorial. The Israeli architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords was shot dead at the site during a peace rally in 1995.
The vandalism has raised concern that the prisoner deal could further inflame ultranationalist Jewish sentiment in Israel, which is believed to be behind a recent spate of attacks on Palestinian communities and symbols.
Suspected Jewish nationalists desecrated Muslim and Christian graves in the Tel Aviv suburb of Jaffa last week and torched a mosque a week before in the northern Israeli village of Tuba-Zangaria.
Mr Rabin's memorial was tagged with right-wing slogans and a plea for the release of his assassin, Yigal Amir, an ultranationalist Israeli who is serving a life sentence.
While police did not identify Mr Schijveschuurder as the suspect, Luba Samri, a police spokesperson, confirmed that a man had been briefly detained after the vandalism incident and was barred from entering Tel Aviv for two weeks. She said he suffered "mental health issues".
Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that family members of Mr Schijveschuurder were killed in the suicide bombing on Sbarro pizzeria in 2001.
Mr Schijveschuurder demonstrated two years ago in front of a tent set up by Mr Shalit's family in Jerusalem to protest the release of Palestinians who were jailed for attacking Israelis, Haaretz reported.
* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse