Israel, Hamas Reach Prisoner-Swap Deal, Freeing Israeli Soldier Gilad Schalit
The AP, along with several other news sources including Al Arabiya and Haaretz, are reporting that Israel and Hamas have reached a prisoner-swap deal that will free Israeli Sgt. Gilad Schalit and hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.
Schalit, if you remember, was captured by Palestinian militants in 2006 and his father, Noam, has led a popular effort to free him.
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.
Al Arabiya reports that the swap will begin in November.
Schalit's capture was what led to the Israeli blockade of Gaza. And, as the AP adds, these negotiations hit close to home for many Israelis because military service is compulsory. For Palestinians, it's equally important because many have seen family members serve time in Israeli prisons.
Update at 2:42 p.m. ET. Background:
NPR has covered the Schalit story extensively. Noam gave an interview to All Things Considered in 2006. Fresh Air looked at how Schalit's capture caused the blockade. And NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reported last September on how Schalit's capture was still "a symbol of everything they think is wrong with Gaza."
Update at 7:25 p.m. ET. Israel Approves Deal:
The AP reports that Israel's Cabinet has approved the deal with a 26-3 vote. The debate lasted more than three hours.
The AP adds:
Ahead of the vote, Israel's hardline foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said he would oppose the deal, arguing that freeing convicted militants would lead to new violence.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implored his Cabinet to support the deal, saying it was the best Israel could hope for.
"This is a difficult decision, but leadership is tested at moments like this, on the ability to make difficult decisions," Netanyahu said in a statement.