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Schalit, 1000 Palestinian prisoners to be freed in Hamas-Israel deal

This post has been updated, October 12, 2011

By Noam Sheizaf and Noa Yachot

The Israeli government approved late Tuesday night a deal struck with Hamas to secure the release of captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. Schalit, who was abducted in a cross-border raid while serving in a tank unit near the Gaza Strip, has been in Hamas captivity for more than five years.

Aviva and Noam Schalit, parents of Gilad, in June 2010 (photo: Itzik Edri)

Since his abduction in June 2006, ongoing negotiations for Schalit’s release have broken down on multiple occasions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking to his cabinet on Tuesday, said the soldier would be freed within days.

The Israeli government met for a special session on Tuesday evening to vote on the deal, which was mediated by Egyptian and German government officials. According to the Israeli news site Ynet, the eight senior cabinet ministers – who comprise Israel’s top decision-making forum – approved the deal on Monday, rendering the vote a formality. The deal was overwhelmingly approved, with 23 ministers voting in favor and three against: Deputy Prime Minister Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon (Likud), Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau, both from Yisrael Beiteinu.

Spontaneous celebrations took place at the Schalit family’s protest tent in Jerusalem. Counter-protesters demonstrated outside the tent against the release of Palestinian prisoners “with blood on their hands” – a term denoting those charged with deaths of Israelis. The soldier’s parents, Aviva and Noam Schalit, came to the tent after the vote, thanking their supporters and expressing cautious pleasure at the vote. “For us, the matter will come to a close when we see Gilad arriving at home and walking down the stairs into the house – that’s when we’ll be able to say that this circle has been closed,” Noam Schalit told the press.

According to media reports, several hundred of the Palestinian prisoners will be released to Jordan and Egypt, and the rest to the West Bank and Gaza. Popular Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who was sentenced to five life terms for his involvement in attacks on Israelis during the second Intifada, was initially said to be among the list of prisoners included in the deal, but Channel 10 later reported he would not be released. Other high profile leaders to remain in prison, despite long-standing Hamas demands, include Hamas leader Abdallah Barghouti and PFLP Secretary-General Ahmed Saadat.

Ynet reported on Tuesday that among the prisoners on the list, 110 will be released to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 203 originally from the West Bank will be “deported” to the Gaza Strip or abroad and 133 Gazans will be returned to their homes, as will six Arab citizens of Israel. Haaretz reported that included in the deal are the militants who killed kidnapped IDF soldiers Nachshon Wachsman, Avi Sasportas and Ilan Saadon; and the driver of the suicide bomber who blew up at Sbarro Pizza in Jerusalem in 2002.

In a televised announcement on Tuesday evening, exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal hailed the deal as a victory for Hamas. He also said that a total of 1,000 male prisoners would be released, in addition to 27 women – reportedly all of the Palestinian women imprisoned in Israel. The release will be carried out in two stages, the first of which will see 450 prisoners freed within a week, and the second carried out in two months. Some 280 Palestinians on the list are presently serving life sentences in Israel.

Israel recently toughened the conditions of the roughly 5,200 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, in what it presented as a bid to pressure Hamas to release Schalit. Hundreds of prisoners have launched a hunger strike in recent days in protest.

Demonstration on Tuesday in solidarity with Palestinian prisoner hunger strike (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

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    1. Sylvia

      1027 total will be released – including all the 27 women in Israeli jail.
      Khaled Meshaal in tonight’s press conference: “1000 for one single soldier a national achievement”

      Reply to Comment
    2. Harvey stein

      Self-serving Bibi of course did it also to take the wind out of PA’s UN push. It’s simply an in-gathering, like 400 yrs ago, when huge ransoms were also raised to rescue Jewish prisoners. Then and now, back into the ghetto we go…..

      Reply to Comment
    3. Timing is obviously political, when Netanyahu is feeling pressure at home over various issues. It also serves him well in his effort to undermine Abbas. Yet the move itself is positive, and that’s the most important thing.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Yonatan

      Why now? What has Hamas changed to make the offer acceptable to Netanyahu? Nothing, I suspect, but maybe someone knows better. My view is that Shalit could have been released under the same terms years ago.

      Why the delay by Israel in accepting the deal? The IDF can recapture (or kill) any of the 1000 anytime it pleases. The prisoners are merely exchanging a prison in Israel for emprisonment in Gaza.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Richard Witty

      Better to just celebrate it.

      No one knows what the future will bring.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Mordechai ben Yosef

      Yonatan raises an important question. Could Shalit have been released years ago with the same terms as today? Was Shalit a prisoner of Israeli politics as much as, or maybe more than a prisoner of Hamas?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ben Israel

      Netanyahu will now be under pressure to balance the gift to HAMAS with a gift to Abbas, so don’t be surprised if he now agrees to another settlement freeze. The political fallout will be immense. Early elections are now a real possibility and the Left has a real chance to get back into power.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Ex Israeli

      This move is correct and positive for Shalit and his family. However, in the wider context there is no sign that Israel has any intention of changing its role in the region. Israeli mentality and actions are a direct result of its historical function in the middle east – and this is unlikely to change with this deal.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Sarah

      Netanyahu has set a horrendous precedent, although I can imagine the pressure on him to do it.

      From now one, no-one nowhere will be safe from these Islamist animals. They will kidnap Americans, Europeans, indeed anyone of any nationality which has been sensible enough to lock up their terrorist thugs, and hold them to ransom for these animals’ release.

      Gilad Shalit’s plight is horrible, and the plight of his family no less so, but this was a decision that Israel will regret unless it acts quickly to neutralise the dangers from those released.

      When will Israel learn that the only way to eradicate these vermin is by dealing with them as they deal with Israelis by showing them no mercy?

      Reply to Comment