Gilad Shalit to be freed in prisoner swap deal

Friends and supporters of Noam and Aviva Shalit, parents of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, celebrate at the family's protest tent in Jerusalem on October 11, 2011, upon hearing news of the deal for Gilad's release.

The Israeli cabinet voted 26 to 3 early Wednesday to go ahead with a prisoner swap deal with Hamas that will bring Gilad Shalit, a 25-year-old soldier imprisoned in Gaza since June 2006, back to Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in a television address that Shalit could be home “within days,” the New York Times reports.

In exchange, Israel will release more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in two stages over the next two months, Bloomberg News reports.

“This is a national achievement for the whole Palestinian people,” top Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said at a televised news conference, Bloomberg News reports. “We all have sacrificed.”

According to the New York Times:

It was unclear what drove the two to accept a deal that had been on the table for years. But both stand to benefit politically and had reasons to distract attention from the efforts of Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, as he circles the globe seeking votes for his bid to gain United Nations membership for a state of Palestine.

Shalit’s family said they were overjoyed at the news, Ha’aretz reports. Speaking to the media in a protest tent they had erected in front of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, Gilad’s father Noam Shalit said, “After 5 years, 1935 days and long nights, the government of Israel is returning our son Gilad to us. We bless the government for its courageous decision, despite the long stretch of time that has passed, this being the second sitting Prime Minister while Gilad has been in captivity.” He said the family would take down their tent and head home.

Shalit has only been heard from a few times since he was captured, Bloomberg News reports. Only three letters, an audio tape and a DVD Hamas released in October 2009 in exchange for the release of 20 female Palestinian prisoners have indicated that he was alive.

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