Palestinian prisoners freed in exchange for Shalit video

Israel began releasing 19 Palestinian female prisoners on Friday in the first part of a breakthrough deal with Hamas. In return, the Israeli authority is awaiting a minute-long video proving captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is alive.


AFP - Nineteen Palestinian women left an Israeli prison Friday in a breakthrough swap for a video of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who has been held by Gaza militants since June 2006.

The Palestinians were seen leaving the HaSharon women's prison in central Israel aboard police vans.

Eighteen were headed to a military base in the occupied West Bank, where they were to be released to their families.

The 19th was to be taken to a prison in the southern port city of Ashkelon and then to the Erez border crossing with the Gaza Strip.

Another woman is to be released in the coming days, Israeli officials said.

The exchange deal marked a major breakthrough in nearly three years of on-again, off-again Egyptian-brokered negotiations between Israel and Hamas. German mediators joined the talks in July.

Cairo has been trying to broker a deal under which hundreds of Palestinian prisoners would be released in exchange for Shalit, who has been held in Gaza since June 2006.

"Israel will receive updated and clear proof on the health and condition of Gilad Shalit. This proof of life will be handed to Israel by the mediators in the form of a videotape that has recently been filmed," the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said when first announcing the deal on Wednesday.

"The video is one minute long and is proof that Shalit is alive," said a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the three groups that carried out the raid in which Shalit was captured.

Shalit, now 23, was seized in June 2006 after Gaza militants, including Hamas, tunnelled out of the Palestinian territory and attacked an Israeli army post, killing two soldiers.

Netanyahu's office stressed the latest development did not herald an imminent release of the captive soldier but was meant as a confidence-building measure ahead of "decisive stages in the negotiations," and warned that the talks were still expected to be "long and arduous."

All but one of the Palestinian women due to be released are from the West Bank and none has been directly implicated in the killing of Israelis.

They include members of the Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

A 15-year-old Palestinian girl who was on the initial list of prisoners to be released in the swap was freed on Wednesday after a parole board shortened her sentence in a development not connected with the prisoner swap.

The teenager was serving 11 months for attempted murder and an attack on a police officer.

A total of 7,200 Palestinians are held in Israeli prisons, 60 of them women -- including those to be released on Friday -- and 320 are under 18 years of age, according to the prisons service.

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