News24

Prison swap deal will see Shalit freed

2011-10-11 21:16

Jerusalem - Israeli and Hamas have reached a deal to free a captured Israeli soldier held in the Gaza Strip in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, officials from both sides said on Tuesday, capping five years of painful negotiations that have repeatedly collapsed in finger pointing and violence.

The deal would bring home Sergeant Gilad Shalit, who was captured in a cross-border raid in June 2006 by Palestinian militants who burrowed into Israel and dragged him into Gaza. Little has been known about his fate since then.

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, convened an urgent meeting on Tuesday night with his cabinet to approve the deal, said an Israeli official, who spoke on condition pending a formal announcement. Hamas officials and media outlets also confirmed the deal.

The agreement would exchange Shalit, 25, for around 1 000 Palestinian prisoners. Israel had previously baulked at Hamas' demands because some of the prisoners are serving lengthy sentences for deadly attacks on Israelis.

Other sticking points in the past have been whether prisoners would be allowed to return home to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or be sent into exile instead. Exact details of the deal were not immediately available.

A Hamas delegation led by a top Hamas official, Mahmoud Zahar, arrived in Cairo on Monday night from the group's headquarters in Syria. The deal would be implemented within days, said Ezzat Rishq, a Hamas official in the delegation.

Shalit's plight has captured the attention of Israel, where military service is mandatory for Jewish citizens, and people identify with the Shalit family's pain.

Hamas has allowed no access to Shalit, and released only a brief audio recording and a videotaped statement early in his five years in captivity.

The soldier's father, Noam, has become a well-known public figure through a a campaign to win his son's freedom, leading demonstrations and sleeping in a tent outside Netanyahu's residence.

1 934 days

Dozens of Israelis converged on the tent late on Tuesday to offer support to the family. The tiny structure is decorated with pictures of Shalit, as well as a large sign with the number 1 934, the number of days he has been in captivity.

Shalit's parents sat in the tent, smiling as people flooded to the area and cars honked horns in excitement.

Likewise, the plight of Palestinian prisoners is deeply emotional among Palestinians. Virtually every Palestinian has a relative who has served time in an Israeli prison, and Palestinians routinely hold large demonstrations where they hold up posters of their imprisoned loved ones.

Announcement of the deal coincided with a hunger strike launched by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners seeking better conditions.

The prisoners had been demanding the restoration of key privileges, such as having Arabic TV channels and being allowed to take university course, which have been systematically stripped since Shalit's capture.

It was unknown whether the leader of the hunger strike, Ahmed Saadat, or the most prominent prisoner, Marwan Barghouti, would be included in the deal.

Saadat was convicted of planning the assassination of an Israeli cabinet minister in 2001. Barghouti was the top local commander of Fatah, the movement of President Mahmoud Abbas, when he was arrested in 2002 and convicted of a role in deadly attacks against Israelis. He is serving multiple life terms.

Neither Saadat nor Barghouti belongs to Hamas, but Hamas is eager to portray itself as representing all Palestinians. The Islamic militant group is in a bitter rivalry with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is enjoying a burst of popularity after defying Israel and the US and seeking membership for the Palestinians at the UN.

Salah Bardawil, a top Hamas official in Gaza, said the revolution in neighbouring Egypt had also helped fuel a deal. He said the new regime "undertook tireless efforts" to broker an agreement.

Timing forced on all

"Israel began to feel trust in the Egyptian side... and we put all our trust in the new Egyptian leadership as a trusted mediator," he said. "The changes in the region have forced the timing on all of us."

The Palestinians have been divided between rival governments, Abbas' Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas' regime in Gaza, since Hamas overran the coastal strip in 2007.

The exchange would include Amina Mona, a young woman who lured a lovestruck Israeli teenage boy to a Palestinian city over the internet, only to have him killed by waiting militants, according to Mohammed al-Barem, a leader of the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the groups that captured Shalit.

He gave no other names, but said it included 300 prisoners serving life sentences.

Israeli groups representing the families of people killed by Palestinian militants have objected to a prisoner swap, saying it would be too painful to allow their children's murderers to go free.

Netanyahu is eager for a domestic boost. The Israeli leader has faced growing criticism for a deadlock in peace efforts with the Palestinians, as well as a series of domestic protests over the country's steep cost of living.

Bringing Shalit home is sure to make Netanyahu a hero.

German and Egyptian mediators tried to broker deals between Israel and Hamas over the past five years. Those talks have repeatedly broke down, and Israel has carried out a number of military strikes and also imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip, partly to pressure Hamas over the case of the soldier.

Comments
  • AquaticApe - 2011-10-11 22:19

    Mazeltov!

  • Dean_B - 2011-10-12 06:29

    How can the world be so blind as to what is happening in the Middle East?! a 1 to 1000 ratio? Come on. This is what happens when governments are run by terrorist organizations like Hamas. I wonder what terrors will come out from Gilad on how he was treated during his time with them, meanwhile Israel is slated for not providing convicted terrorists with TV in their prison cells. There is no racism in Israel keeping Jews and Muslims separate. You have to do that when you have extremists blowing themselves up in malls. There has to be some form of protection for your citizens. Hopefully peace will come to the Middle East in good time.

  • daaivark - 2011-10-12 07:45

    AT last a hint of a civilised outcome from these two perpetually belligerent parties. Who knows, one may even see a suggestion of sanity in the region within the lifetime of my grandchildren.

      Zionist - 2011-10-12 09:05

      agree! If Gilad Shalit is released safely in the coming days, and I hope and pray to G-d with all my heart that he is, then a certain dynamic will unfold. There will be a lot of relief and goodwill on the part of many parties, but if this is not capitalised on quickly the danger is stagnation and a slip back to old patterns of thought and behaviour. Beware the vacuum. A good relationship must be maintained, nurtured, nudged along and guided. If you neglect it, it will wither and die. Peacemaking is a dynamic process. The centre of the action must be Jerusalem. You don't captain a ship that is underway from the quarter decks. Get the right person and his assistants to the Holy City. Think Royal Court/Tent of Meeting idea. Some fundamental points can be agreed upon which have are not political or religious. From these cornerstones can the details be worked out. A thirty eight year vision can be explained. Obviously not all the moves are known in advance. Some things can remain "fuzzy". If trust and genuine concern is present solutions can be found. With prayer, vigilance and right action the true potential of the region will unfold. There is plenty of time and space. The issue is the will, wisdom and maturity of the various parties. Every minute of life is a test. We should have gratitude for the gift of life.

  • granadilla - 2011-10-12 09:34

    hope :)

  • tictoctictoc - 2011-10-12 14:05

    Israel should stop brutalising women who are protecting their children and children who are throwing stones. We threw stones at the apartheid regime in SAfrica and we also got shot at by an SANDF and SAP with live ammo. We were labelled as terrorists (including Mandela) and we were dehumanised so that somehow our lives were cheaper and it was OK to use violent means get rid of us agitators and terrorists. What's happening to Palestinians is exactly the same - they being oppressed by a heavily armed and heavy handed regime. The European settlers in Israel are no different to the old apartheid regime in SAfrica and their supporters are no different to those who supported the apartheid regime 20 years ago!!

      geeghey - 2011-10-12 16:23

      @ tictoc- your obsession with israel is not good for your fragile mental state of mind, there is no need to get so worked up, you could even get a hernia. may i sugget that you go check out these two sites: talibanjobs.com and iranianorderbrides.com, you never know, you could find your dream job or even find true love. glad i could be of assistance.

  • Abdud-Dayaan Keown - 2011-10-12 16:04

    Well if it takes 1 measly Israeli soldier to release a 1000 Palestinians then their is hope for the other 5554 prisoners that the Israeli government acknowledge they are holding excluding the other 2815 they do not acknowledge holding since they are kept incommunicado by the army and Shin Bet some of them who has been held for more than 20years without trial.

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