'Schalit to be back home in Israel by next week'

By REUTERS, JPOST.COM STAFF
October 13, 2011 16:43

Chief Schalit negotiator will head to Cairo in coming days to finalize details of deal; swap expected to take place on Egyptian territory in Sinai.

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Gilad Schalit

Gilad Schalit 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, who has been held in captivity by Hamas for more than five years, will likely be back in Israel by next Wednesday evening, Israel Radio reported Thursday.

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.

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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.

No details of the timing and choreography have been made public. But the approximate mechanics of the exchange can be sketched from details gleaned from Palestinian and Israeli sources.

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.

Israeli law, which stipulates a 48-hour period for any citizen to formally oppose the release of any prisoner, plus this week's Jewish religious holiday, mean it is likely to be Tuesday at the earliest before the operation can take place.

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.

Schalit is likely to be flown to Israel by military aircraft. The Palestinians will have further to travel, possibly by bus and plane through Egypt and on to a variety of destinations.

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 Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, and 130 will go home to the Israeli-blockaded 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.

Israel is expected to publish the list of Palestinian names agreed with Hamas on Sunday morning. It will not include a few of the most prominent activists jailed for violent attacks on Israelis, but 310 men serving life terms will be freed, including one man aged 79.

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