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Mideast prisoner swaps spotlight divide

JERUSALEM -- This week's planned Mideast prisoner swap is unleashing deep anguish in Israel and widespread elation in the Palestinian territories, laying bare the chasm of perspective dividing the two sides.

In Israel, the public is aghast at having to release convicted perpetrators of suicide bombings, deadly shootings and grisly kidnappings, although most understand that's what it takes to win freedom for a soldier captured during a routine patrol inside Israel at age 19.

The Palestinians, with equal vehemence, see the returnees as heroes who fought an occupier at a time of violence and argue moral equivalence between their actions and those of Israel's army.

These diverging narratives have been reflected in reactions to the deal, in which Israel will free some 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Gilad Schalit, captured by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in June 2006.

Shalom Rahum, whose 16-year-old son Ofir was lured over the Internet to the West Bank by a woman and killed, said her release was reopening a painful episode.

"Our little consolation was our bit of justice," he said. "If there were a peace treaty, I'd say . . . release all the prisoners because we are opening a new page. But we are not signing a peace treaty," he told Israel TV.

Following initial joy over the deal, Israelis have begun to ask questions about the lopsided price their government is paying. To address Israeli security concerns, Hamas agreed to have more than 200 West Bank-based prisoners deported to either the penned-in Gaza Strip or to a third country, where it would be much harder to carry out attacks.

Among Palestinians, there is ongoing disagreement over whether the use of violence has been counterproductive in the quest for statehood. Recent polls indicate that support for attacks on Israelis has dropped since the uprising ended. But the implicit message of the deal to the Palestinian audience is that Israel will more readily make concessions under pressure than in negotiations with Palestinian moderates.

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