Israel police arrest man opposed to prisoner swap

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 14, 2011 6:14 AM
Israel police arrest man opposed to prisoner swap

By Ori Lewis

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli police Friday arrested a man suspected of defacing a memorial to assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in an apparent protest against an impending Palestinian prisoner swap.

A police spokesman said the man, whom he declined to name, was the son of a couple killed in a Jerusalem pizzeria suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 2001.

Islamist group Hamas has said that two Palestinians who helped carry out the attack were among 1,027 prisoners Israel has agreed to free in return for the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier abducted by Gaza militants in June 2006.

"His parents were killed in the bombing and he was apparently protesting against the prisoner exchange. He is still being questioned," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Television footage from the scene showed the memorial covered in white paint and sprayed graffiti on a wall calling for Rabin's killer to be freed and the words "price tag" -- a slogan associated with hardline Jewish West Bank settlers.

Debate has raged in Israel over the release of convicted killers in such a large number in exchange for one person. Many of those opposed are relatives of people killed in attacks who say the freed prisoners will return to militancy.

The 2001 pizzeria bombing killed 15 people and came in the early stages of the second Palestinian Intifada. One of those held responsible for the attack was a young woman, Ahlam Tamimi, who drove the suicide bomber to the target.

She is serving a life sentence for her role in the blast and is expected to be sent into exile to Jordan after her release, which is due next Tuesday as part of the Shalit deal.

The prisoner swap, over three years in the making, was finally brokered last week with Egyptian mediation between Israel and the Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

Some 450 Palestinian men and 27 women are due to be freed in the first phase of the swap, with Shalit expected to be handed over to Israel simultaneously. A further 550 Palestinians will be released next month.

Israel is set to publish the list of prisoners it will free late Saturday or early Sunday. It has already said that almost 300 of them are men are serving life terms.

After the list is released on the Israel Prisons Authority web site, there will be a 48-hour period during which the Supreme Court can hear legal objections.

Families of the Israeli victims have said they will protest, but this is not expected to halt the swap, which has broad political and public support in Israel.

Shalit was grabbed by militants who tunneled into an Israeli army border position next to Gaza in 2006. Israeli forces had withdrawn from Gaza a year earlier, shutting off the coastal enclave behind a heavily guarded security fence.

Shalit was 19 at the time of his capture and is now 25. The last sign of life received from the soldier was a videotape made by his captors in September 2009 where he pleaded for his life.

(Editing by Crispian Balmer and Alistair Lyon)