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Israel, Hamas Agree on Prisoner Exchange for Captured Soldier

Captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit (file)

Israeli and Palestinian officials say the Israeli government has reached an agreement with the Palestinian militant group Hamas to free captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The Egyptian-mediated agreement says Hamas will exchange Shalit for the freedom of about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his cabinet Tuesday night to approve an exchange of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit reportedly for about 1,000 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons. The young Israeli soldier has been held captive for more than five years.

Netanyahu said that if everything went smoothly, Shalit would return home within days.

Netanyahu said he believes Israel reached the best agreement possible before the window of opportunity could have closed for good. He said the agreement was signed on Tuesday.

The soldier’s family and supporters were jubilant over the news. Celebrations also broke out in the Gaza Strip, which has been controlled by Hamas since 2007.

Hamas leader Khalid Mashal announced the accord in Gaza.

Mashal said that after years of negotiations, they had reached an agreement for the release of many Palestinians in exchange for a single Israeli.

Gaza television said the deal would see the release of hundreds of people, including women and children and some senior Palestinian officials.

Shalit was captured in June 2006, during a raid from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel. At the time he was a 19-year-old conscript.

Hamas, which took control of Gaza the following year, had demanded that Israel free thousands of Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons in exchange for Shalit.

Some members of Netanyahu's Cabinet had rejected such demands because they included Palestinians who reportedly had been involved in deadly attacks on Israel which, it was feared, would resume.

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