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“An Israeli army officer, from our point of view, he is a terrorist if he gives orders to kill people or bomb certain areas. For (Israelis), he is a hero,” just as Palestinians honor their own combatants, Mr. Fares said. “It’s a debate that will never end.”

He said bombers or gunmen should not be held personally responsible for their particular actions because they were swept up in the atmosphere that prevailed at the time. Recent polls indicate that support for attacks on Israelis has dropped since a rash of deadly bombings and shootings a decade ago, at the height of the second Palestinian uprising.

In Israel, the planned prisoner release led one man to carry out his own dramatic act of protest.

Shvuel Schijveschuurder, 27, lost his parents and three siblings in 2001 when a suicide bomber blew up a crowded pizza restaurant in Jerusalem, killing 15 people. A Palestinian woman who transported the bomber to the restaurant is among those slated for release.

On Friday, Tel Aviv police arrested him for vandalizing a memorial to the assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in what seemed to be an attempt to draw attention to the family’s opposition to the swap. Rabin’s killer was an Israeli extremist who objected to his agreement to trade the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the Palestinians for peace.

Last week, after the decision was announced, Mr. Schijveschuurder’s 20-year-old sister, Lea, stood outside a Jerusalem protest tent where 300 supporters of the deal were celebrating. She held a sign that read, “My parents’ blood shouts from the grave.”

A Hamas leader in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, told the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot in an interview published Sunday that the swap deal for Sgt. Schalit will encourage the Islamic group to capture more soldiers.

“The lessons we’ve learned by kidnapping soldiers leads us to continue the kidnappings,” the Hamas leader said. “We still have 7,000 prisoners in (Israeli) jails, and they also need to be released.”

In the Palestinian territories, families were waiting anxiously, especially for the return of some of the longest-serving prisoners.

In the West Bank village of Kobar, 47-year-old Hanan Barghouti said she was counting down the hours until the release of her brother, 57-year-old Nael, who has been in prison since 1978 for the killing of an Israeli man.

“We are waiting for him to come out, get married and have a family like everyone else,” she said.

Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.