Possible Deal Near to Free Captive Israeli Soldier
Published: October 11, 2011
JERUSALEM -- The Israeli government was due to meet in emergency session Tuesday to discuss a proposal to exchange Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier who has been held captive by Hamasfor more than five years, a senior Israeli official said.
The official said all 29 ministers had been summoned for the meeting concerning the fate of the captive soldier, Staff Sgt.Gilad Shalit, and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu viewed the proposal on the table as serious. He said the cabinet was expected to vote on the proposal.
Al Arabiyya, the satellite network, was reporting that Egyptian mediators had made a breakthrough and that the exchange for Sergeant Shalit could happen as early as November.
One Israeli official said that Mr. Netanyahu had already met with his most senior ministers to review the names of hundreds of Hamas prisoners to be released.
Sergeant Shalit was seized in a cross-border raid by Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in June 2006, and was taken into Gaza. He was 19 at the time, and efforts to end his prolonged incarceration in Gaza have become an emotional cause in Israel.
Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 and then took full control of Gaza in 2007, routing the Palestinian Authority forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas of the rival Palestinian group Fatah.
A prisoner exchange deal had seemed close in late 2009, but the talks collapsed. Israel and Hamas each accused the other of failing to reach agreement. Israel has expressed readiness for a prisoner exchange, but has in the past balked at releasing some of those demanded by Hamas, including those whom Israel has convicted as planners and perpetrators of some of the deadliest terrorist attacks in recent years.
Two years ago, Israel released 20 Palestinian women from its jails in exchange for a videotape of Sergeant Shalit that proved he was alive.
The Israeli government is under constant pressure to arrange the soldier’s release. Despite the popular support here for some kind of a deal, many also have qualms about releasing some of the most notorious prisoners.
Tens of thousands of Israelis joined the Shalit family in the summer of 2010 for parts of a 12-day march from their home in northern Israel to Jerusalem to draw attention to their son’s plight. Since then, the soldier’s parents have spent many of their days in a tent on a sidewalk near the prime minister’s residence.