Israel, Hamas cut deal on release of abducted soldier, Palestinian prisoners   2011-10-12 06:23:07 FeedbackPrintRSS

JERUSALEM, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his cabinet in an emergency session Tuesday evening to discuss the details of an agreement signed with Hamas in Gaza for the release of abducted soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit in return for 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners.

Israel has also reportedly agreed to release the Palestinians, some of them not affiliated Hamas members, to the West Bank as well as Gaza, Army Radio reported. Some of the prisoners are Israeli Arabs and Palestinians from east Jerusalem.

"Gilad Shalit will be returning to Israel and his family in the coming days," Netanyahu announced in a televised press conference held before the cabinet was due to convene to hear the deal's details.

"Two and a half years ago, with the forming of (my) government, I took it upon myself as my most significant task to return Gilad to his people and his family alive and well," the prime minister said.

"Gilad has spent five years in the most horrible of captivities, without us knowing his condition. I do not know if the near future would have allowed us to achieve a better deal, or a deal at all, since it is very likely that this window of opportunity, created in these circumstances, would have finally closed, and we wouldn't have freed Gilad at all."

"There was great tension between bringing Shalit home ... and maintaining the security of Israeli citizens," Netanyahu said of the talks.

Officials at the Prime Minister's Office echoed Netanyahu, saying that "a brief window of opportunity has been opened that would possibly lead to Shalit's homecoming."

"The window appeared following fears that collapsing Mideast regimes and the rise of extremist forces would make Gilad Shalit's return impossible," said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Netanyahu did not spell out the terms of the deal.

Local media, however, reported that Shalit is to be released to Egypt in the first stage of the deal, in return for the release 450 Palestinians. In the second stage, following the soldier's arrival in Israel, another 550 prisoners will be released, among them some 60 who are serving multiple life sentences for planning and perpetrating attacks that claimed the lives of hundreds of Israelis.

The remaining prisoners would be released at a later date, according to the Ynet news site.German and Egyptian mediators played a major role in the deal, according to officials in Cairo who spoke with the Israeli Haaretz daily.

"After 64 months of tough negotiations we were able to complete the deal. It was a very difficult task, which included thousands of hours of negotiations," said an official who was involved in the negotiations said.

"We all feel it is time to bring Gilad home," he told Israel Radio.

Hamas spokesmen in Gaza confirmed that a prisoner-swap deal has been signed.

"We are in the process of completing the technical arrangements to complete the deal within days," said Abu Ubeida, a member of Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing.

Netanyahu will present his cabinet with the fine details of the deal in deliberations that are expected to last well into the night. The prime minister is reportedly seeking unanimous approval of the deal.

Local analysts told Army Radio that the deal's approval is more than likely.

Chief coalition partner Foreign Minister Avidgdor Lieberman is likely to oppose the deal, but will probably allow his Yisrael Beiteinu party freedom to vote in their conscience; the dovish ultra-Orthodox Shas party is likely to support the move, with Likud ministers Moshe Ya'alon and Silvan Shalom possibly opposing the decision.

Hamas militants abducted Shalit in a cross-border raid on an army post near Gaza in June 2006, killing two members of his tank crew and dragging him into a tunnel dug beneath the border security fence.

Since then, Hamas has refused repeated calls to allow the International Red Cross to visit the soldier, as per Geneva Convention rights of prisoners of war.

Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu met the soldier's parents, Noam and Aviv Shalit, to inform them of the impending deal.

"I promised to return (Gilad) home and I fulfilled my promise," Netanyahu told them.

When the news of the deal became public, Noam and their two other children soon joined Aviv at a protest tent the family had set up earlier this year outside Netanyahu's official residence in downtown Jerusalem.

They were accompanied by hundreds of supporters anxiously awaiting final word on the cabinet deliberations.

Editor: Mu Xuequan
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