Gilad Shalit: Israel, Hamas agree on prisoner swap to free Israeli solider

Noam and Aviva Shalit, parents of abducted Israeli soldier Gilat Shalit, smile in a protest tent set up outside the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem.

Israel and Gaza’s Hamas Islamist rulers agreed on Tuesday to swap more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Israeli captive soldier Gilad Shalit, resolving one of the most emotive and intractable issues between them.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, asking his cabinet to approve the lopsided swap and under constant public pressure to bring Shalit home, said the soldier would be reunited with his family “in the coming days.”

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip greeted the agreement, brokered by Egypt and a German mediator, with celebratory gunfire. Hamas confirmed that it only remained to conclude technical arrangements for the exchange.

The breakthrough pact, after many false dawns in years of secret efforts to free Shalit since he was captured in 2006, has no direct bearing on Middle East peace negotiations.

But it was virtually certain to improve the climate for international efforts to restart peace talks.

Prospects for peacemaking have been clouded by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s request for UN recognition of a Palestinian state and Israeli settlement expansion which Abbas has said must stop if negotiations are to begin again.

A source involved in the talks said the long elusive pact had been mediated by Egypt, playing a role which is likely to strengthen Israel’s ties with Cairo, which have suffered since the fall of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak in a revolution this year.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said Israel will release 1,027 prisoners in two stages. Within a week, 450 will be swapped for Shalit and the rest will be freed two months later. Twenty-seven women are among those on the release roster.

It was not immediately clear how many of the prisoners were jailed for attacks that caused Israeli casualties. Under Israeli law, opponents of their release have at least 48 hours to appeal to courts to keep them behind bars.

PUBLIC CAMPAIGNS

In tandem with a public campaign waged by Shalit’s parents for his freedom, relatives of Israelis killed in Palestinian attacks have lobbied Netanyahu not to give in to Hamas by releasing prisoners with blood on their hands.

There are about 6,000 Palestinians prisoners in Israeli jails. They are regarded as heroes in what Palestinians call their struggle against Israeli occupation and quest for statehood.

“We are happy with this great achievement and we thank our God for that. But our happiness is mixed with sorrow because we were not able to gain the freedom of all prisoners,” Meshaal said in a televised address from Damascus.

Israeli television quoted Netanyahu as telling Shalit’s parents that ever since he took office three years ago “I’ve been waiting for the chance to make this telephone call” to inform them of the deal.

Shalit’s family, which has maintained a vigil in a protest tent near Netanyahu’s Jerusalem home for months, had accused him of not doing enough to secure his release.

Announcing to his cabinet, and television cameras, that a deal had been signed earlier in the day, Netanyahu said he feared time was running out for Shalit amid political upheaval in the Arab world.

“I believe we have reached the best agreement possible at this time when storms are raging in the Middle East. I don’t know if we could have reached a better agreement, or even achieved one at all, in the near future,” he said.

“It’s possible that this window of opportunity would have closed for good and we never would have brought Gilad home.”

The wife of Marwan Barghouti, a charismatic activist seen as a future Palestinian leader, told Reuters in the West Bank that she was eagerly awaiting word that he will be included in the prisoner swap.

In Gaza the families of men jailed for life by Israel waited to see if their names would be on the list.

Israel has carried out several lopsided prisoner swaps in the past, notably in 1985 when hundreds of Palestinian prisoners were freed in exchange for several soldiers captured by a guerrilla group in Lebanon.

The ordeal of Shalit, a fresh-faced corporal, transfixed Israel after the tank gunner was captured by militants who tunneled their way out of Gaza and then forced him back over the border.

He was 19 at the time and had begun his mandatory three-year army service nearly a year previously.

Shalit, who also holds French citizenship, was last seen in a videotape released by his captors in September 2009 showing him looking pale and thin.

He received no visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross, despite many appeals.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.