Is the Shalit deal within grasp? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened the cabinet for an urgent session on Tuesday night to approve a prisoner exchange deal meant to secure the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
Netanyahu said at the start of the cabinet meeting that if everything goes as planned Shalit will return home within days after more than five years in Hamas captivity.
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The cabinet is expected to vote on the deal later Tuesday night. Jerusalem sources told Ynet that it was "highly likely" that the cabinet would approve the deal by a majority vote.
The prisoner swap would see Shalit exchanged for some 1,000 Palestinian terrorists held by Israel. A source involved in the talks said the deal would see the prisoners released in a two-stage arrangement, the first involving the release of 450 for the soldier, with the remaining 550 freed at a later time.
"The exchange deal of Palestinian prisoners for Shalit (will be) implemented at the beginning of this November, with Egyptian mediation," the television channel said, citing unnamed sources. It did not give further details.
Hamas' Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades Spokesperson Abu Ubeida said: "We are in the process of completing the technical arrangements to complete the deal within days."
Shalit in 2009 message recorded while in Hamas captivity
Popular Resistance Committees' Spokesman Abu Mujahid said that the agreement reached with Israel includes the release of all female prisoners, as well as Israeli-Arab prisoners.
A Hamas delegation led by a top Hamas official, Mahmoud Zahar, arrived in Cairo on Monday night from the group's headquarters in Syria. Gaza sources told Reuters that the swap may even take place "within the next few days."
'Gilad could be home within days'
"When I took office I took it upon myself, as a personal mission, to bring Gilad home to his family," Netanyahu said at the beginning of the cabinet meeting.
"The main mission ahead of us was to bring him home with the help of the German mediator. Not a day went by when we didn’t try to devise ways to get Gilad back.
"In the past few weeks the negotiations were renewed. I instructed the team to hold them under the guidelines important to Israel – the need to bring Gilad home and the need to keep Israel's citizens safe. I, as the prime minister, and the government are deeply committed to both," Netanyahu continued.
Netanyahu in emergency government meeting on Tuesday (Photo: GPO)
"I'm presenting the government with a proposal that would see Gilad come home safely. Our main mission – to actually bring Gilad home – was extremely difficult and the negotiations were grueling. With everything that is happening in Egypt and the region, I don’t know if the future would have allowed us to get a better deal – or any deal at all for that matter. This is a window of opportunity that might have been missed."
Turning his attention to the objections voiced by terror victims' families to the pending release of hundreds of prisoners responsible for the deaths of many Israelis, Netanyahu said: "I understand the hardships of the terror victims' families… but it is the leadership's job to make difficult decisions.
"This deal expresses the correct balance between all of our considerations. This is a very hard decision," he concluded.
Netanyahu's special eight-minister forum discussed the deal on Sunday and had apparently agreed on all of the deal's main points.
Shalit was captured in June 2006 in a cross-border raid by Palestinian terrorists near the Kerem Shalom crossing. He has been held in Hamas captivity for 1,934 days.
Elior Levy, Ahiya Raved, AP and Reuters contributed to this report
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