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.

  • Ian - 2011-10-18 09:03

    wont be long before those 477 terrorists are either dead or locked up again, hopefully blown away in airstrikes because we all know they are going to start there crap again

  • David - 2011-10-18 09:08

    This proves that while its enemies praise death,Israel sanctifies life. Having said that,it is not a wise move,as the door to increased terrorism in the middle east has been opened by the release of 1027 terrorists.

      Waleed - 2011-10-18 09:41

      well then according to INDEPENDENT STATISTICS, you're a liar...

      Iwan - 2011-10-18 09:55

      And Waleed, your point being?

      Dirk - 2011-10-18 11:08

      Israel actually got a "bargain". In terms of quality, one Israeli soldier is worth more than 1027 murderous arab bandits.Israel must make sure that these convicted thugs never sets foot on Israeli soil again.As Jaba says; they are bound to poison any society- let it be arab soil.And if they violate that agreement, I hope that the Israelis know how to deal with them next time.May the only living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, bless Israel.

  • Jaba - 2011-10-18 09:11

    A soon to be enriched Palestinian society??? No doctors , teachers, men of science , writers. , thinkers, creators entrepreneurs…. Palestinian society benefits by getting back sociopaths, cut throats and bandits to further poison an already dysfunctional society. May they alter their ways for the benefit of this whole world. To the Palestinians I plead, choose peace rather than this stupid violent means that will only lead to more blood (on both sides)

  • cosmos.ndebele - 2011-10-18 09:14

    Hamas scored a huge victory here!!!!

      brian.ellse - 2011-10-18 09:19

      Not at all. The exchange rate has now been determined. 1 Israeli = 1027 Palestinians. That's the true perspective on this deal.

      alan.alhadeff - 2011-10-18 10:17

      How is this a victory? The prisoners released killed Jews and did not fight for the downfall of Israel. How do I know this, because Hamas refuses to recognize Israel as a legitimate state to begin negotiations with. Just as a FYI, the Germans negotiated this.

      Leon - 2011-10-18 12:40

      viva ISRAEL

  • chester.wandsworth - 2011-10-18 09:19

    24 years?!?

      Deon - 2011-10-18 10:02

      Probably killed a few people in Israel?

  • africanwolf - 2011-10-18 09:26

    It shows that Israel looks after it's people and no matter how unfair it sounds, it exchanges over 1000 murderers for one soldier that was kidnapped (not in war conditions) it clearly shows who is the coward here

  • Malose - 2011-10-18 09:28

    This augur well for the final peace settlement in the middle east, its a small step to a permanent solution. Life is important, Israel must be applauded for their commitment to release 1000 Palestinians in return for one prisoner. To me it illustrate their commitment to peace effort.

  • Iwan - 2011-10-18 09:46

    Don't really know how to feel about this. Happy for the soldier and his family, but also sad as these 1000 plus radicals now have a second chance to attack Israel.

  • Robert - 2011-10-18 09:55

    understand the cost of the trade. these are some of the "freedom fighters" being released back to their homes and families. I support the trade, but it is at a HEAVY cost

  • Gary - 2011-10-18 09:57

    So if we gave Palestine Juli-arse Malema would we get 1000 quadrapligic camels with mange?

  • arielyshein - 2011-10-18 10:03

    Welcome home Shalit. Sorry for the one who sees their family's murderers escaping justness. Sorry for the civilians that will be killed in the future by the released terrorists. We the Israelis are phasing a terrible moral dilemma. Protect versus save people from terrorism. Where is the limit line? From one hand it is our duty to save every captured Israeli. And on the second hand our duty is to protect our civilians from terrorism. Unfortunately Arabs doctrine of destroying Israel on stages using all means will keep this dilemma open for a long time period. From 2000 more than 180 Israeli civilians have been killed by terrorists released by Israel. My Mother was killed on a bus by Palestinian terrorists while returning home after visiting her grandchildren. Some of them have been released in previous deals

  • Andre Ernstzen - 2011-10-18 10:08

    Israel probably somehow placed tracking devices on/in each one of the prisoners. To be caught again at a later date

      robbie.crouch - 2011-10-18 10:19

      I would have...

  • Denver - 2011-10-18 12:34

    most of the palestinians were anyway jailed for just crossing the border good job hamas

      BA - 2011-10-18 12:49

      That is such ignorant rubbish Denver. They were jailed for murdering civilians - they are evil terrorists.

      Billy - 2011-10-18 13:05

      The Palestinians must be a nation with a huge inferiority complex to accept a deal where 1 Jewish life is worth 1027 of theirs. Actually, on reflection, that is about right.

  • Denver - 2011-10-18 16:03

    you are obviously one sided BA dont forget how israel murdered thousands of innocent palestinians

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