Israel was scheduled to release 550 prisoners late Sunday, in the second stage of an exchange with Hamas in Gaza.
In the first stage in mid-October, Israel released 477 Palestinian militants, many serving multiple life sentences, in return for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held hostage by the Islamist movement ruling Gaza for more than five years.
The prisoners scheduled to be released Sunday include no one serving a life term. Most are members of the armed wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement.
Under the Egyptian-mediated deal, Hamas hand-picked many of the names freed in the first stage, while Israel decided who to release in the second.
The vast majority are to go to the West Bank and had been already taken to an Israeli military base near Ramallah, on the central West Bank, from where they were scheduled to cross over into Palestinian autonomous territory via a nearby military checkpoint.
Forty-one prisoners were to be transported to the southern Israeli Kerem Shalom crossing, from where they are to enter the Gaza Strip.
Two East Jerusalemites are to be transported to a base in East Jerusalem and two from Jordan were to cross the Allenby Bridge border with Israel’s eastern neighbour.
Israel Prison Service (IPS) buses are scheduled to begin transporting the prisoners to the various points of exchange at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT), a spokeswoman, Sivan Weizman, said. The actual handover is scheduled for 10 pm (2000 GMT), she said.
All 550 prisoners had already been moved to two central facilities on Thursday, ahead of the exchange.
Israel’s Highest Court of Justice late Saturday rejected petitions against the release, filed by relatives of Israelis killed in attacks by Palestinian militants, Israel Radio reported.
The court ruled that the issue had political and security ramifications and therefore was a government decision in which the court would not intervene.