Vehicles carrying Palestinian prisoners began leaving Israeli jails early on Tuesday (local time), starting a phased prisoner exchange meant to secure the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
In the deal reached between Israel and the Gaza Strip's Islamist rulers, Hamas, Sergeant Shalit will be freed after five years of captivity in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.
Witnesses said prison buses carrying the first of 477 Palestinians due to be released in the first phase of the swap began leaving jails in Israel before first light.
The first vehicles that left a jail in central Israel were carrying female prisoners, most of whom will be freed in the West Bank.
They were accompanied by security personnel from Egypt, who mediated the swap deal, an official said.
It came just hours after Israel's Supreme Court approved the transfer by rejecting appeals which had been lodged against it by Israeli groups representing the victims of terrorist attacks.
The petitions were lodged by relatives of Israelis killed in attacks carried out by some of the prisoners who will be released.
In all, Israel is due to free 1,027 Palestinians under the terms of the deal for Sgt Shalit's freedom.
Sgt Shalit is expected to be handed over at a border crossing in Gaza's south before being taken north to a military base near Tel Aviv to be reunited with his family.
The prisoner-swap implementation is expected to take several hours.
More to come.
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