|[ 10/10/2011 - 10:03 PM ]|
|Nael Barghouthi captured on 4 April 1978, Gilad Shalit captured 25 June 2006|
From Khalid Amayreh in occupied Palestine
After losing all hopes for rescuing imprisoned Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is held in the Gaza Strip, Israel has apparently agreed to accept virtually all Hamas's conditions for a prisoner swap deal that would also see the release from Israeli jails and dungeons of as many as a thousand Palestinian prisoners, including men, women, and children.
Israeli prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said an agreement with Hamas had been reached and that Shalit would be returning home in the coming days.
Speaking during an emergency session of his cabinet Tuesday evening, Netanyahu said there was a window of opportunity to release Shalit which he said the government decided to seize.
Acting otherwise, he added, and in light of the "storms" blowing throughout the Arab world, could mean that "Shalit may never come back."
Netanyahu was apparently alluding to the Arab Spring and the collapse of pro-Israeli regimes in both Egypt and Tunisia .
Hamas' officials in the Gaza Strip and abroad have confirmed the conclusion of a swap agreement with Israel.
In Damascus, Hamas' leader Khaled Mishaal revealed details of the long-awaited deal. He told an impromptu news conference in the Syrian capital that the swap deal stipulated the release of a thousand male prisoners as well as 27 female prisoners.
He also pointed out that the deal would see prisoners with multiple life-imprisonment terms from Jerusalem and the Arab community in Israel released.
Mishaal added that the deal would be carried out in two stages, first the transfer of Shalit outside the Gaza Strip, which would coincide with the release of 450 Palestinian prisoners, and second the release of the rest of the prisoners once Shalit returns to Israel.
Mishaal saluted the people of Gaza for their sacrifices and also thanked Egypt , Turkey , Syria and Germany for their positive roles in concluding the deal.
Abu Ubaida, a resistance Islamist leader in Gaza told al-Jazeera Television Tuesday night that the agreement was a landmark victory for Hamas and other Palestinian resistance factions.
"This is a great victory for the Palestinian people. We send this gift to the martyrs, including Sheikh Ahmed Yasin."
He said that Israel was forced to accede to virtually all the demands and conditions of Hamas.
According to the agreement, all women and children prisoners will also be freed.
Among prisoner leaders to be released are the main commanders of Hamas's resistance wing including Abdullah Barghouthi, Yahya Sinwar, Abdullah al Sayed as well as leaders of the Islamic Jihad organization. Marwan el Barghouthi, the imprisoned Fatah leader, and Ahmed Saadat, Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) will be among the freed prisoners.
A spokesman of the resistance movement in Gaza, Abu Mujahed, attributed the success of the deal to "the resilience and unflinching determination of the resistance to see to it that all our demands are met."
"It was not easy, but eventually we are about to get what we wanted."
He added that Palestinian freedom fighters knew from the very inception that Israel wouldn't agree to free that many prisoners unless it was forced to.
"Israel only understands this language."
Abu Mujahed said the deal also stipulated that Israel would meet all the demands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who have gone on an open-ended hunger strike in protest against worsening prison conditions.
Egypt reportedly played a key role in concluding the deal.
An Egyptian official was quoted as saying that "after 64 months of tough negotiations we were able to complete the deal. It was a very difficult task, which included thousands of hours of negotiations."
Egyptian officials have also said that the deal which has been reached also includes the release of accused Israeli spy Ilan Garpel.
During deliberations leading up to the Israeli acceptance of the deal, Netanyahu reportedly told his ministers that failing to endorse the deal would probably doom Shalit's fate forever.
"If the government fails to approve the deal, the whole move to release Shalit could go down the drain, conceivably postponing his release by many years."
Netanyahu spoke of "powerful storms" hovering over the Arab world, which he said would make rescuing Shalit utterly unlikely if the government didn't seize this opportunity.
The deal is widely viewed as a great moral and political booster for Hamas. It is also likely to contribute to further enhancing relations between Hamas and Cairo.
Moreover, many Palestinians feel the deal will be especially auspicious in terms of pushing national reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas forward.
Hamas's fighters, along with fighters from the People Resistance and Army of Islam took part in the military operation on 25 June, 2006, during which Shalit was taken prisoners.
Israel tried in vain every conceivable feat and trick to repatriate Shalit, including launching widespread and murderous aggressions against the Gaza Strip in which thousands of Palestinians lost their lives.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Israel: Arab Spring forced us to accept Hamas's demands for freeing Shalit