Israel's Supreme Court has upheld the government's decision to exchange hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, setting the stage for the historic swap to begin early Tuesday.
The high court rejected four petitions submitted by relatives of Israelis killed in Palestinian attacks, thwarting a last-minute attempt to block the deal with the Islamist Hamas movement. The court had been widely expected not to intervene.
Under the exchange deal, 1,027 Palestinians will be freed in two stages in return for Shalit. The captured Israeli soldier will be released to Egyptian custody and then handed over to Israel at the same time as the Jewish state begins to free the Palestinians at various locations.
After his return, Shalit will be flown to an air base where he is to be greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, other leaders and close family. Later, he will be taken to his home in northern Israel.
The Jewish state has transferred most of the 477 inmates expected to be released Tuesday to a holding facility in the Negev desert. About 100 will be sent to the West Bank and roughly 40 are to be deported to Jordan, Turkey, Qatar and Syria. The rest will be freed in Gaza, where Hamas has been readying a heroes' welcome. A second group of 550 inmates will be released over a two-month period.
Shalit was captured by Palestinian militants in a 2006 cross-border raid from Gaza into southern Israel.
Some of the prisoners to be released were involved in planning and carrying out terrorist attacks against Israelis, including more than 280 Palestinians serving life sentences. More than 100 are considered hardcore militants.
In Washington Monday, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said international mediators will meet separately with Palestinian and Israeli negotiators in Jerusalem on October 26, in an effort to re-launch peace talks.
The Middle East Quartet of mediators includes the U.S., European Union, Russia and the United Nations. The talks will just miss the 30-day deadline to restart preliminary talks that the Quartet set on September 23.
Quartet envoy Tony Blair, Britain's former prime minister, will attend the meetings.