Israel began preparing Saturday night for a prisoner swap with Hamas, whereby 1,027 Palestinian prisoners will be freed in return for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, dpa reported.
Officials from Israel's Justice Ministry handed over files of the prisoners slated for release in the first stage of the swap to a team from the office of President Shimon Peres.
Under Israel law, Peres has to sign a clemency for each prisoner being freed, and the officials were to sift through the files to prepare the letters.
Some 477 prisoners, among them 27 women, will be released in the first stage in return for Shalit, whom Hamas has been holding for more than five years.
The names of the prisoners slated to be released have not yet been officially published. The list is to be made available to the general public either late Saturday or early Sunday.
Under Israeli law, the list has to be made public in advance of any prisoner swap to give opponents of the deal time to lodge appeals against it.
Israelis who lost relatives in militant attacks have already asked the Supreme Court to delay the exchange, arguing that more time is needed to study the list of names and prepare petitions against the release of any specific prisoner.
The swap is expected to take place on Tuesday, but this has not yet been confirmed. Israeli and Hamas officials were meeting in Cairo late Saturday to iron out the final details.
A senior Hamas official said that Shalit would be handed over to Egypt, rather than to the Red Cross, and the swap would take place between the Strip and Egypt's Sinai peninsula.
The Israeli will be handed over only after the prisoners being released in the first stage of the swap arrive at the point where the exchange is to take place.
Israel Radio reported Saturday night that the Palestinian prisoners slated for release will be transferred Sunday morning to two prisons in Israel. The majority will be taken to Ketziot jail, in the south, but some will go to Sharon prison in the centre of the country.
Once the prisoners have been transferred, they will undergo medical checks and have their identities confirmed.
Shalit's father, Noam, told reporters Saturday that the family had not yet received final details of the swap.
"It's not over until it's over," he said.
Shalit was snatched on June 25 2006, during a cross-border raid that Hamas and two other militant groups launched from the Gaza Strip.
Since his capture, he has been held largely incommunicado, with Hamas refusing to allow the Red Cross to visit him, and signs of life limited to one audio tape, one video message, and a handful of letters to his family.
Negotiations to free him were conducted via Egyptian, and then German, mediation. The deal securing his release was announced Tuesday and approved by the Israeli cabinet in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
In addition to the 477 being freed in the first stage, Israel has also agreed to release 550 prisoners at a later date.