The security cabinet on Wednesday morning approved the release of 20 female Palestinian prisoners and detainees in exchange for an up-to-date video tape of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, in the first concrete move toward freeing the soldier since he was kidnapped over three years ago.
The decision to release the Palestinians came upon the recommendation of the team working for Schalit's release, headed by Hagai Hadas.
The release of the Palestinians, and receipt of the tape, are scheduled to take place on Friday.
According to the suggestion that came from the German mediator, working together with the Egyptians, Israel will get recent and unequivocal proof of Schalit's condition.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu congratulated Hadas and the team on their "professional work" away from the spotlight, and said, "it is important that the whole world will know that Gilad Schalit is alive and well, and that Hamas is responsible for his fate and well being."
Watch previous audio of Schalit in captivity as released by Hamas on June 25, 2007
A statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office said the cabinet decided to respond positively to this initiative as a "confidence building measure within the framework of the indirect negotiations" with Hamas over Schalit.
The names of the Palestinians to be released will be published later Wednesday by the Justice Ministry, and their names will be posted on Israel Prison Service's website.
A senior source in the PMO said Hadas was in constant contact with the Schalit family, and that they were informed of the developments. "The negotiations are still expected to be long and hard," the source said, "and we will continue to take concrete steps to bring Gilad home as quickly as possible."
The sources cautioned that this development did not mean that the sides were on the cusp of an agreement, but that this was part of a larger agreement that was still a long way off.
Once the names of the Palestinians are on the internet, the public - as was the case in similar prisoner releases in the past - will have 48 hours to appeal. After that period, the prisoners will be released once the German mediator - Ernst Uhrlau - hands the tape over to Israel.
Urlau has already seen the video, which is believed to have been taped within the last few weeks.
Nineteen of the 20 prisoners are from Judea and Samaria, and only one is from Gaza. The vast majority has already served two-thirds of their sentence, and was scheduled to be released within the next two years.
None of the women were directly involved in the killing of Israelis, although two or three were indirectly involved. A number of others were arrested for offenses such as carrying knives.
If a final deal is agreed upon for the release of Schalit, these 20 prisoners will come off the final number of prisoners that the Palestinians are demanding. It is not clear whether these names were on the list of prisoners that was drawn up by Hamas.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida confirmed that 20 female prisoners were expected to be returned in the coming days. He made no mention of a videotape of Schalit, saying only that Hamas would respond by "clarifying his fate."
A senior Egyptian official involved in the mediation said the move was designed to create "an atmosphere of trust."
"There is no doubt that this step will support the efforts of all sides to solve the problem," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity under security guidelines.
AP contributed to this report