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Captured Israeli Soldier at Center of Israel-Hamas Prisoner Swap

An Israeli soldier and a woman walk past a protest tent near the Prime Minister's residence, in Jerusalem, calling for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, June 24, 2011.

Israel has been trying to secure a deal with the Palestinian militant group Hamas for the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for more than five years. Reports on Tuesday say a deal is now near between Israel and Hamas to free him.

Members of Hamas and other militant groups captured Shalit on June 25, 2006 during a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel. The militants killed two other Israeli soldiers in that raid, while Israeli troops killed two of the infiltrators.

The Palestinian militants returned to Gaza with Shalit as prisoner, who at the time was a 19-year-old Israeli army conscript.

Hamas, which took control of Gaza in 2007, has demanded that Israel free hundreds of Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons in exchange for Shalit.

Israel objected to demands for the release of some prisoners convicted of deadly attacks on Israelis, fearing that such militants will return to violence if freed.

The most recent proof that Shalit was still alive came in October 2009, when Hamas handed Israel a video showing him reading a statement while holding up a Gaza newspaper dated September 14, 2009. He appeared to be in good health. Israel released about 20 female Palestinian prisoners in return for the video.

Shalit's abductors have blocked the International Committee of the Red Cross from having access to him since his capture. The humanitarian organization visits prisoners of war worldwide.

Egypt has spent years trying to mediate a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas. German mediators also have been involved.

Then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pushed for a deal in 2009. But, the talks broke down apparently over Hamas' rejection of an Israeli demand that some Palestinian prisoners would be deported rather than released into the West Bank and Gaza.

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