Middle East

Israel frees last Palestinian detainees in Shalit swap

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Media captionThe freed detainees were met with scenes of jubilation

Israel has freed 550 Palestinian prisoners in the second, final phase of a deal that saw the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in October.

The first batch of 477 Palestinians freed in the initial swap two months ago included many convicted of murder and of planning suicide attacks.

Correspondents say that exchange caused some anger and controversy in Israel.

Israeli officials say that none of those freed on Sunday "have blood on their hands", AFP news agency reports.

Sgt Shalit, 25, was seized in 2006 by militants of the Islamist movement Hamas, who tunnelled into Israel.

After some five years of delicate negotiations, Israel and Hamas agreed to a deal - brokered by Egypt - which saw Sgt Shalit and 447 Palestinians simultaneously released on 18 October.

The swap was completed on Sunday night with the release of the 550 Palestinian prisoners, who were mainly serving light sentences.

Image caption Gilad Shalit, an Israeli conscript tank crewman, spent five years in captivity in the Gaza Strip

Street parties

This time the vast majority of those being freed returned to the West Bank, controlled by the Fatah faction, not Hamas-governed Gaza.

According to the AP news agency, under the terms of the deal Israel chose which prisoners were to be freed in the second round.

The BBC's Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell says there are street parties taking place in Ramallah and Gaza city to celebrate.

But the event does not carry as much drama as the first stage two months ago, our reporter says.

The more than 500 prisoners going to Ramallah were driven into the city on 12 buses at around 22:00 local time (20:00 GMT), where thousands of people awaited them at the Palestinian presidential headquarters, AFP reports.

In Gaza, well-wishers greeted the 41 prisoners freed there by waving Palestinian flags and shooting guns in the air, AP says.

"I am so glad that I am back, this is a real victory," freed prisoner Kamal Madheem, 40, told the news agency.

A last-minute appeal to delay the deal lodged by Israeli victims was rejected by the Supreme Court hours before the release.

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