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Israel Frees 550 Palestinians in Second Stage of Shalit Exchange

Israel freed 550 Palestinian prisoners in the second stage of an agreement with the Islamic Hamas movement for the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit.

Most of the prisoners were released to an area of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority while 41 were sent to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, the Israeli Prison Service said today in an e-mailed statement. Two prisoners were sent to Israeli-controlled east Jerusalem while the remaining two were sent to Jordan, it said.

Shalit was freed Oct. 18 in the first stage of the exchange in which Israel released 477 prisoners. The Israeli soldier was seized five years ago by Palestinian militants from a tank stationed outside Gaza and held captive inside the small coastal territory.

Hamas and Fatah, the secular movement led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, were scheduled to hold talks in Cairo today aimed at mending a four-year rift and governing together in the West Bank and Gaza.

Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in 2006, seized control of Gaza while Abbas purged Hamas members from the West Bank leadership. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by the U.S., the European Union and Israel.

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