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Gilad Shalit may finally be released

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The Israeli Government confirmed that a deal has been reached with Hamas for the release of 25-year-old IDF soldier Gilad Shalit - kidnapped by Hamas on 25 June 2006 - in exchange for 1027 Palestinian prisoners.

As Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced:

"In the coming days we will return Gilad to the bosom of his parents, Aviva and Noam, to his brother Yoel, his sister Hadas, his grandfather Tzvi and the entire people of Israel".

Netanyahu also told reporters that he informed the Shalit family that he was "returning their boy."

Israeli cabinet voted early Wednesday morning to approve the prisoner swap deal. Twenty-six ministers voted in favor of the deal, and three ministers - Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau, both of Yisrael Beiteinu, and Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon of Likud - voted against the proposal.

The Shalit family have campaigned tirelessly for Gilad's release, having set up a protest tent outside the Prime Minister's residence for years. Noam Shalit, Gilad's father said:

"After 5 years, 1935 days and long nights, the government of Israel is returning our son Gilad to us...We bless the government for its courageous decision, despite the long stretch of time that has passed, this being the second sitting Prime Minister while Gilad has been in captivity...We want to thank all of the activists that stood with us all these years. They stood by our side during the long sisyphic struggle, and all our supporters, in Israel and throughout the world...As far as we are concerned, it will only be over when we see Gilad, descending the staircase, entering the home - only then will the circle be closed".

The Shalit family said they would now dismantle the protest tent and would return home.

The deal was struck in secret negotiations between Israeli and Hamas officials in Cairo mediated by Egyptian and German officials.

A total of 1027 Palestinian prisoners will be freed in two phases.  In the first phase, Israel would free 450 prisoners within a week (including 280 with life sentences), after which Shalit will be sent to Israel.  In the second phase the remaining 550 prisoners of Israel's choosing would be released in two months.

While the details remain unclear it has been reported that Gilad Shalit will be released to Israel next week. Hamas leader Khaled Meshal has also said that the "first stage" of the deal would take place within one week.

Other details of the deal for Gilad Shalit's release include:

  • 110 prisoners will be released to their homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, out of whom 55 are Hamas men, with the rest belonging to Fatah and the other Palestinian groups.
  • 131 Gaza residents will be released back to the coastal Strip, many of whom are reportedly top Hamas operatives. Another 203 prisoners will be expelled from the West Bank, 40 of whom will be deported overseas and the rest to Gaza.
  • 6 Israeli Arab prisoners who have been serving their term for many years will also be released to their homes.
  • 27 female inmates will be released, terrorists Ahlam Tamimi and Amna Muna will be deported, with the rest of the female inmates expected to be released to their homes.
  • The second wave of releases will take place in two months time, at which point Israel will release 550 prisoners of its choosing.

According to Haarertz, in a briefing with reporters, the Shin Bet chief indicated that senior Hamas West Bank operatives the militant group demanded be set free - such as Abdullah Barghouti, Ibrahim Hamed, Abbas Sayed, and others - will not be released from jail. Ahmed Saadat, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, will also remain in prison, as well as prominent Fatah figure Marwan Barghouti.

About half of those released to the West Bank will live under restrictions that include prohibiting them from exiting the West Bank and, in some cases, the towns in which they live.

The Shin Bet supported the newly signed deal since releasing Shalit by means of a military operation was deemed impossible. The Shin Bet Chief said:

"It's not a good deal, but, on the other hand, it's the only way if we want to bring him home."

There is likely to be a 48-hour period when families of victims can file with the Israeli Supreme Court to request that terrorists who killed or injured their relatives should not be released.

The deal represents the importance that Israel places upon Israeli life, and its commitment to returning abducted soldiers. As Netanyahu stated:

"There exists a built-in tension between the desire to bring a kidnapped soldier or citizen home, and the need to preserve the security of Israeli citizens...This is a difficult decision....My heart is with the families of the terror victims. I understand their suffering, and their distress, because I am one of them. But leadership is judged in moments like this by the ability to make difficult, but correct, decisions."

To read further information on how the deal happened click here

To view footage of Gilad Shalit from a video filmed by Hamas on September 14 2009 click here.


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