In a deal more than five years in the making, Israel and Hamas have reached a prisoner exchange agreement that will free IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Gaza terrorists in a cross-border raid in June 2006. According to a statement from Benjamin Netanyahu on the Israeli Prime Minister’s Facebook page, “If all goes as planned, Gilad will be back in Israel in the next few days.”
He made the comments at a session of the Israeli Cabinet. The Twitter feed for Prime Minister’s spokesperson Ofir Gendelman reported the vote passed easily with 26 of the 29 ministers approving. Al Jazeera reported that more than 1000 prisoners will be released for Shalit.
Past reports had said Hamas had demanded that a number of terrorists be released in exchange for Shalit. The Al Jazeera report cited a televised address from Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who said that of the 1027 freed prisoners, hundreds of them had life sentences.
Netanyahu’s Twitter feed said the concluded negotiations with Hamas were “arduous,” but no official Israeli figures were given on the number of Palestinian terrorists to be freed in the exchange as of Tuesday afternoon.
The Hamas military wing’s website confirmed the deal as well, with a statement from the military wing saying, “An honorable exchange deal has accomplished, whereby Palestinian detainees will be freed.” According to the website, Meshaal told a press conference that the deal will be split into two stages: one in a week and another after two months. It was unclear from his comments what those stages would involve.
The statement released by Netanyahu on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page said the deal takes the security of Israel into account. “There is an inbuilt tension between the desire to bring back an abducted soldier, or citizen, and the need to maintain the security of the citizens of Israel… The deal I am bringing to the Government expresses the right balance between all of these considerations.”
He also acknowledged the pain the deal will cause the families of terrorism victims. While he did not say so explicitly, this is presumably since convicted terrorists behind the attacks are set to be freed.
“I do not wish to hide the truth from you—it is a very difficult decision,” said Netanyahu. “I feel for the families of victims of terror, I appreciate their suffering and distress, I am one of them. But leadership must be examined at moments such as this, being able to make difficult, but right, decisions.”
Netanyahu’s statement said he told the Israeli team to initial the deal last Thursday, and it was finalized and brought before the Israeli cabinet on Tuesday.
The Israeli leader included “a special thanks to the Government of Egypt and the Egyptian Intelligence Services for providing much assistance in mediating and helping us reaching this agreement.” He said the negotiations were under Egyptian mediation and were renewed “in the last few weeks.”
Previously Germany had been involved as a mediator as well, and Netanyahu thanked the German mediator and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for their efforts.
Netanyahu’s statement said he had shared the news with Gilad’s parents, Noam and Aviva Shalit, as well as Gilad’s grandfather Zvi. “I told them that I am keeping my promise and I’m bringing their son and grandson home. I told them, ‘I’m bringing your boy back.’” said Netanyahu.
Negotiations for Shalit’s release had been off and on for years, and the Israeli leader expressed the concern that this arrangement might not have been possible forever, calling it “the best deal we could have at this time.”
“I do not know if in the near future we would have been able to reach a better deal or any deal at all,” said Netanyahu’s statement. “It is very possible that this window of opportunity, that opened because of the circumstances, would close indefinitely and we would never have been able to bring Gilad home at all.”
International congratulations had already arrived hours after the announcement. British Foreign Secretary William Hague, in a statement posted on the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, said he welcomed the agreement to free Gilad.
“Holding him in captivity has been utterly unjustified from the beginning and yet it has gone on for 5 long years. We have always called for his unconditional release,” said Hague. “We are pleased that this long overdue development is finally taking place. Mr Shalit’s long captivity has been painful for his family and I hope that he will be reunited with them as soon as possible.
“The UK supports all such efforts to build confidence and trust between all parties.”
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, October 11, 2011)