'Gantz confirms: Schalit to return to Israel October 18'

By JPOST.COM STAFF, REUTERS
October 13, 2011 21:46

IDF chief visits kidnapped soldier's parents in Mitzpe Hila, informing them they will meet their son at the Tel Nof Air Force Base in central Israel, to which he will be flown from Egypt, Channel 2 reports.

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Benny Gantz

Gantz official looking serious 311. (photo credit: IDF spokesperson unit)

IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz met with Noam and Aviv Schalit on Thursday evening, confirming that their son Gilad Schalit would be returning to Israel on Tuesday, Channel 2 reported.

Gantz told the Schalits at their home in Mitzpe Hila that on Tuesday, Gilad would be flown from a military base in Egypt to the Tel Nof Air Force Base near Rehovot. According to the report, Noam and Aviva Schalit will have their first meeting with Gilad at Tel Nof.

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The chief of staff did not disclose the expected time of Schalit's arrival, Channel 2 reported.

Schalit negotiator David Meidan will head to Cairo in the coming days to conclude the details of the deal struck between Israel and Hamas to bring the kidnapped soldier back to Israel.

Schalit will be freed in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The swap is expected to take place on Egyptian territory at locations somewhere in the Sinai Desert, as yet undisclosed.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has facilitated other prisoner swaps, has offered its services and is discussing this with Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers.

"We are talking to both sides about our offer. We have offered our services as a neutral intermediary to both sides," ICRC spokesman Marcal Izard told Reuters in Geneva.

The handover will begin with carefully timed, simultaneous moves somewhere in Egypt. But Schalit and the men and women for whom he is being traded are not likely to even come close to seeing each other.

The deal, over three years in the making and a casualty of at least two breakdowns, was finally brokered last week with Egyptian mediation between Israel and Hamas.

It was signed and announced by both on Tuesday evening.

Schalit is 25 and has been the focus of an emotional campaign since soon after his capture in June 2006. He was last seen, looking pale and thin, in a 2009 video shot by his captors, and he is sure to get a hero's welcome in Israel.

The Palestinian side, too, is preparing to celebrate the release of 450 men and 27 women, including prison veterans held in Israeli jails for 30 years.

Some will be greeted at home. Others will be exiled to third countries, as yet unnamed, without stopping on Palestinian soil.

It is expected that Schalit will be taken across Gaza's southwestern border into Egyptian territory while groups of Palestinian prisoners are transferred from Israeli jails to the Egyptian border near Eilat, on the edge of the Sinai Desert.

Of the 450 Palestinian men and 27 women to be freed in this first phase of the exchange, out of a total of 1,000 men set for release in the coming months, 111 will go home to the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and 130 will go home to the Gaza Strip.

Six Arab-Israeli prisoners will be allowed to return to their homes in Israel. The rest -- 203 men and two of the 27 women prisoners --will be exiled to unnamed third countries, probably to join the Palestinian diaspora.

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