An Israeli soldier held for five years by the armed wing of Hamas will be released in exchange for the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, according to Israeli Army Radio.
Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Schalit was kidnapped inside Israel in June 2006 by Palestinian militants after they tunneled into the Jewish state and attacked an Israeli army outpost, killing two soldiers.
Since then, he has been held incommunicado by Izaddin al-Kassam, the armed wing of Hamas, which controls the Palestinian territory of Gaza. In October 2009, Hamas released a tape of Schalit to prove he was still alive in exchange for the release of a number of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails.
A spokesman for Hamas confirmed Tuesday to the Egyptian newspaper al-Masry al-Youm that Schalit would be released “within days” in a deal mediated by Egypt. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said Israel will release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldier.
Meshaal told al-Arabiya television that 450 prisoners would be released within a week, with the rest being freed in two months — including all 27 Palestinian women prisoners in Israeli custody. Abu Obaida, a spokesman for Hamas, said the agreement includes prisoners serving lengthy prison terms.
The soldier’s parents have worked tirelessly to keep their son’s name in the news, meeting with anyone who would hear their case, ranging from French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the New York City Council. On Tuesday, Sarkozy made a public statement calling for their son’s release as did the city council.
For two years, the soldier’s parents camped out in a tent in front of the Israeli prime minister’s office in Jerusalem — as they did everything possible to keep the issue of their son’s release in the news, notes a Jewish Telegraphic Agency article in the Jewish Herald-Voice.
Reporting in the Jerusalem Post, Melanie Lidman reported that Sarkozy called Noam Schalit, the soldier’s father, and congratulated him.
Meanwhile, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset went into a special session to approve the deal.
“Tension and excitement were high at the Gilad Schalit protest tent outside of the Prime Minister’s house on Tuesday night as activists nervously waited for word from the Prime Minister’s Office,” wrote Lidman. “Crowds began gathering at 8 p.m., when the emergency Knesset meeting started. Dozens of journalists were soon joined by a high school class from Holon, which sang and danced in support of the Schalits.
“Later other groups of youth came and sang. Noam and Aviva Schalit made brief appearances in the tent but did not speak to the media. Activists were teary-eyed at the thought that this long journey may be over.
“When we see Aviva and Noam hugging their son,” said family spokesman Avi Kagwhen, “then we’ll be happy.”