Israel, Hamas announce deal on captured soldier
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli and Hamas officials announced late Tuesday that they have reached a prisoner swap deal to free a captured Israeli soldier held in the Gaza Strip in exhange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, capping five years of painful negotiations that have repeatedly collapsed in fingerpointing and violence.
The deal would bring home Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who was captured in a cross-border raid in June 2006 by Palestinian militants who burrowed into Israel and dragged him into Gaza. Little has been known about his fate since then.
Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, convened an urgent meeting Tuesday night with his Cabinet to approve the deal, said an Israeli official, who spoke on condition pending a formal announcement. A senior Hamas official in Cairo also confirmed the deal.
The agreement would exchange Schalit, 25, for around 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Israel had previously balked at Hamas' demands because some of the prisoners are serving lengthy sentences for deadly attacks on Israelis. Exact details of the deal were not immediately available.
A Hamas delegation led by a top Hamas official, Mahmoud Zahar, had arrived in Cairo Monday night from the group's headquarters in Syria. The deal would be implemented in a week, the senior Hamas official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
Schalit's plight has captured the attention of Israel, where military service is mandatory for Jewish citizens and families identify with the Schalit family's pain. The soldier's father, Noam, has become a well-known public figure by leading a campaign to win his son's freedom, leading demonstrations and sleeping in a tent outside Netanyahu's residence.
Likewise, the plight of Palestinian prisoners is deeply emotional among Palestinians. Virtually every Palestinian has a relative who has served time in an Israeli prison.
Both German and Egyptian mediators have repeatedly tried to broker deals between Israel and Hamas. Those talks have repeatedly broke down, and Israel has carried out a number of military strikes and imposed a blockade over the Gaza Strip to pressure Hamas.