Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that a tentative deal to secure the release of Sgt. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive for the past five years, had been reached. The exact timing of the actual exchange is still unclear, but could be as soon as next week. As Joel Greenberg reported :
Israel and the militant Islamist group Hamas announced Tuesday that they had agreed on an exchange that would free about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive in the Gaza Strip for more than five years.
The Israeli Justice Ministry said Wednesday that a list of 477 prisoners to be released in the first stage of the swap will be be published on the Israel Prison Service’s Web site on Sunday.
“As we have done in the past, we intend to give the public a period of at least 48 hours from the moment of the publication of the list of prisoners to submit reservations or opposition to this or that release,” the ministry said in a statement.
A ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the matter said that the list was not finalized and added, “The earliest the swap will take place is Tuesday or Wednesday next week.”
The consummation of a deal between the sworn adversaries after years of fruitless negotiations reflected the pressures facing both Israel and Hamas at a time of region-wide uprisings and a rapidly shifting Middle Eastern landscape.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously warned that a swap for Shalit would free dangerous militants and put Israel’s security at risk. But amid a relentless campaign by Shalit’s family that won the hearts of the Israeli public, Netanyahu ultimately bowed. In remarks Tuesday night, he acknowledged that Israel, which has become increasingly isolated amid the regional tumult, was faced with the stark choice of winning Shalit’s freedom now or seeing the chance disappear forever.
The Israeli public greeted the announcement with joy tinged with anxiety as happiness at the return of Shalit was tempered with concern that the released militants could return to violence once released. As AP explained :
Israeli euphoria over a deal to free a soldier held for five years by Hamas gave way Wednesday to growing anxiety that the swap for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, some of them convicted of murder, could lead to new violence.
When Israelis first got word Tuesday night of the deal to free Sgt. Gilad Schalit, they erupted in spontaneous celebrations. But that joy was tempered when they learned that about 300 Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis would be among the 1,027 released in exchange.
“If many terrorists are released in this deal, it will be an immense incentive to kill Israelis and to carry out further abductions,” said Israeli Cabinet minister Uzi Landau, one of just three who voted against the swap. “This deal will be a huge victory for terror. It will be a blow to Israel’s security and deterrent capability,” he added. Hawkish opposition groups warned of a new violent Palestinian uprising led by those released.
The Syrian-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal pledged Tuesday night that those released “will return to ... the national struggle,” a comment that only stoked Israeli fears that they may pay a heavy price for the deal.
In the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, where Schalit is believed to be held, militants went even further, threatening to capture more Israeli soldiers.
“Gilad Schalit won’t be the last (soldier), as long as the occupation holds Palestinian prisoners,” said Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas’s military wing.
The story of Gilad Shalit’s capture and captivity have become an international call to action that had captured the heart of the Israeli public, whose pressure helped convince Netanyahu’s government to agree to the exchange. As Elizabeth Flock reported :
Although Shalit was captured only in 2006, the story of his imprisonment is a long and convoluted one, involving many failed arbitrations, diplomatic efforts and rescue attempts, as well as a divide in the Israeli public over how to secure his release.
The story begins in Nahariya, Israel, where Shalit was born in 1986 to French-born parents, making him both an Israeli and French national.
But it really only gets started when Shalit began military service in the Israel Defense Forces in 2005, where, despite medical issues, he chose to serve in a combat unit.
Just a year after he joined, Palestinian militants tunneled into Israel and attacked an Israeli army post where Shalit was serving. The young soldier was injured by a grenade and then captured by the militants.
It made him the first Israeli soldier captured by Palestinians since 1994.
The day after his capture, Shalit’s captors — which included the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Popular Resistance Committees and Army of Islam — issued a statement that said Shalit would be released if Israel agreed to release all female Palestinian prisoners and all Palestinian prisoners under the age of 18.
Israel declined, saying it would not negotiate to release a prisoner.
In the months that followed, Hamas issued an ultimatum for Shalit’s release, and Israel made a rescue attempt. Diplomatic efforts followed, involving Egypt, which attempted to mediate, and France, because of Shalit’s citizenship.
As the years went by, Shalit’s family relentlessly campaigned for his release, begging for international intervention and saying his confinement was contrary to international humanitarian law.
Opinion: The Gilad Shalit swap