Jerusalem, Oct. 12 - After five years in captivity, Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit will return home to Israel as early as next week. He was kidnapped by Iran-backed Hamas in 2006 in a cross-border operation near Gaza. He was 19 at the time.
In exchange for Shalit, Israel is releasing 1,027 Palestinian prisoners – about half of whom will be released before Shalit arrives in Israel and the remainder after his return. It was an emotional and difficult decision, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated at the start of his cabinet meeting Tuesday evening (Oct. 11). In fact, 280 of the first batch of prisoners to be released are serving life sentences, Israel’s Haaretz reported.
Iran-backed Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal were touting the deal as a victory Tuesday. Yet the BBC reported that, actually, the deal likely went through because Hamas is politically weaker than it was two years ago. Hamas could also be using this “win” to gain political favor over Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for concluding a prisoners’ swap with Israel.
Yoram Cohen, head of Israel’s Security Agency, Shin Bet, added that the deal only became viable after Hamas backed down from some of its key demands, including the release of its master terrorists.
“Member of the Hamas politburo in Damascus, Izzat al-Rishq admitted Wednesday that the prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas would not include senior members of the political and military arms of the Palestinian factions,” Israel’s YNet reported. This was the first time senior Hamas officials admitted that their most coveted prisoners would not be freed.
Analysts also pointed out that senior non-Hamas terrorists will not be released as part of the prisoner exchange. Marwan Barghouti, for example, head of Fatah's militant branch who is serving five life sentences for planning and funding terrorist attacks, will not be among those freed. He was arrested in 2002 and is serving multiple life sentences. He is widely considered to be a future Palestinian presidential contender.
Hamas bombmaker Abdallah Barghouti - sentenced to 67 life sentences in 2004 for providing the explosives used in terror attacks in several Jerusalem cafes and the Hebrew University, Ahmad Sa’adat - secretary-general of the secular Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine convicted for planning the assassination of an Israeli minister in 2001, Jamal Abu Alhija and Hassan Salama will also not be released as part of the prisoner exchange, Bloomberg reported.
Abbas Sayed, imprisoned for his role in planning a double suicide bombing at the Park Hotel in Netanya in 2002, in which 30 people were killed and 140 injured will also not be released.
One-hundred and ten prisoners will be released to their homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – 55 of them are Hamas members and the remainders belong to Fatah and the other Palestinian factions. Another 131 Gaza residents will be released back to their homes, many of whom are reportedly top Hamas operatives. A further 203 prisoners will be expelled from the West Bank, 40 of whom will be deported overseas for being high-risk, and the rest to Gaza. In addition, six Israeli Arab prisoners will also be released.
The deal also specifies the release of 27 female inmates. Female terrorists Ahlam Tamimi and Amna Muna will be deported but the others are expected to return to their homes.
Hamas has kept Shalit captive for more than five years – and has denied the International Red Cross access to Shalit, constituting a breach of human rights and international law. “The only contact with the solider during this time has consisted of three letters, an audiotape and a video, received in exchange for the release of 20 female Palestinian prisoners two years ago,” The Guardian added.