Hamas releases Israeli soldier Shalit

2011-10-18 08:50
Gaza - Gaza's Hamas Islamist rulers released captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on Tuesday in return for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, a Hamas military source said, in a deal ending a saga that has gripped Israel for five years.

The source said Shalit, 25, was taken across the frontier from the Gaza Strip into Egypt's Sinai peninsula, where he was handed over to Egyptian officials who will take him to Israel's Vineyard of Peace border crossing a short distance away down a desert road.

There was no immediate confirmation from Israel or Egypt.

Israel was to release 477 Palestinian prisoners during the day. Some were due to be taken to the Sinai and handed over to Egyptian officials for transfer to the Gaza Strip, which is run by Hamas. Others were to go free in the occupied West Bank.

Some 40 are being sent into exile to Turkey, Qatar and Syria. Another 550 Palestinians are to be released in a second stage of the Egyptian-brokered agreement, expected in about two months.

Prisoners of war

The mood in Israel was one of joy. Shalit has been popularly portrayed as "everyone's son" and opinion polls showed that an overwhelming majority of Israeli backed the thousand-for-one deal, although many of the prisoners going free were convicted of deadly attacks.

For Palestinians, it was a time to celebrate what Hamas hailed as a victory, and a heroes' welcome awaited the released prisoners. Palestinians see brethren jailed by Israel as prisoners of war in a struggle for statehood.

The deal received a green light from Israel's Supreme Court late on Monday after it rejected petitions from the public to prevent the mass release of prisoners, many serving life sentences for deadly attacks.

Shalit was abducted in June 2006 by militants who tunnelled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and surprised his tank crew, killing two of his comrades. He has since been held incommunicado and was last seen looking pale and thin in a 2009 video shot by his captors.

On reaching Israel, Shalit will be flown by helicopter to an air base in the centre of the country where he will be greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reunited with his family. Later he will fly to his home in northern Israel.

The repatriation of captured soldiers, alive or dead, has long been an emotionally charged issue for Israelis. Many have served in the military as conscripts and see it as sacrosanct. But they also feel stung by the high price they feel Israel is paying for Shalit.

"I understand the difficulty in accepting that the vile people who committed the heinous crimes against your loved ones will not pay the full price they deserve," Netanyahu wrote in a letter, released by his office, to bereaved Israeli families.

Palestinian statehood

Israel, which withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, tightened its blockade of the coastal territory after Shalit was seized and taken there.

The deal with Hamas, a group classified by the US and EU as a terrorist organisation over its refusal to recognise Israel and renounce violence, is not expected to have a direct impact on efforts to revive Middle East peace talks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Hamas rival, has been pursuing UN recognition of Palestinian statehood in the absence of negotiations with Israel that collapsed 13 months ago in a dispute over settlement-building in the occupied West Bank.

Crowds gathered in both Gaza and the West Bank awaiting the return of their prisoners.

"This is the greatest joy for the Palestinian people," said Azzia al-Qawasmeh, awaiting at a West Bank checkpoint for her son Amer, who she said had been in prison for 24 years.

Read more on:    hamas  |  israel  |  middle east peace

SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
24 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24

 
/News
 

The driverless luxury car of the future!

Watch this video of the Mercedes Benz F 015 concept car, the company’s vision of a driverless future.

 
 

Luxury living

WATCH: Private luxury island for sale!
10 of the most ridiculous celebrity purchases, that cost millions!
Karl Lagerfeld spotted with custom gold Apple Watch
The most luxurious dog house!
Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may have extra responsibilities you need to deal with right now and you need to create the necessary boundaries and...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.