martes, 11 de octubre de 2011

Gilad Shalit: Israel and Hamas agree prisoner swap deal

Gilad Shalit (undated file image) Gilad Shalit has been held by Palestinian militants for the past five years 
Israel and Hamas have agreed a deal for the release of Sgt Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held hostage by Palestinian militants for five years.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deal had been reached after arduous talks, and that Sgt Shalit would be back with his family "within days".
Israel is likely to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange.
Sgt Shalit was captured in a cross-border raid in 2006, and repeated attempts to free him have failed.
But Mr Netanyahu said in a national TV address: "We have concluded arduous negotiations with Hamas to release Gilad Shalit. He will be coming home in the next few days."
'Window of opportunity' The militant group Hamas, which runs Gaza, said in a statement that there were tens of thousands of people on the streets celebrating the deal.
It is hard to overstate how important the fate of Gilad Shalit is to Israel.
Almost every family in the country has a son or daughter serving in the military. Shalit's capture resonates with them all. He is probably the most recognisable figure in the country.
It is for that reason that the government is ready to swap him for - according to Hamas officials -1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.
But after so many false dawns why now? The timing is important because Hamas has been on the back foot in recent months after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's attempt to get Palestinian membership at the UN gained huge support in the occupied territories.
This is their way of showing their more violent approach can also win results. What will be key politically for both sides is how many high-profile prisoners Israel has been ready to give up.
The group's leader Khaled Meshaal appeared on TV to hail the swap deal as a victory for the Palestinian people.
He promised to carry on working to free every Palestinian prisoner held in Israeli jails.
The BBC's Jon Donnison in Jerusalem says Sgt Shalit's family and the families of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails will not believe a deal has been done until their relatives are home.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted an unnamed official in Mr Netanyahu's office as saying that "a brief window of opportunity has been opened" that could lead to Gilad Shalit's release.
The official added: "The window appeared following fears that collapsing Mid-East regimes and the rise of extremist forces would make Gilad Shalit's return impossible."
An Israeli source involved in the talks was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying that the deal called for 1,000 Palestinians prisoners to be freed in two stages.
The first involves the release of 450 for the soldier, with the remaining 550 to be freed later.
Some of the 5,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel have been convicted of serious crimes, but others are being held without charge.
Israel's Channel 2 TV reported that both sides had shown greater flexibility in recent talks.
Indirect talks over 25-year-old Sgt Shalit's release - being mediated by Egypt and Germany - had focused on prisoner exchanges.
In October 2009, Hamas released a video of the soldier calling on Mr Netanyahu to do everything to free him.