Khaled Mashal, head of the Hamas Political Bureau, said 1,027 prisoners will be released in a deal brokered by Egypt, in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured in 2006 by three Palestinian resistance factions and held since then in the Gaza Strip. ‘This is a national achievement that we should be proud of,’ said Mashal in a televised address from Damascus, Syria.
The list of those to be freed, he added, includes 315 prisoners who have been sentenced to life, a result of the negotiators giving priority to those who have spent over 20 years in jail.
‘We were very keen for this deal to include prisoners from across different categories, from different age groups and from the West Bank and Gaza, from Jerusalem and the Golan [Heights],’ Mashal stated.
He also emphasized that the deal reflected the unity of the Palestinian people and vowed to fight until ‘the day that all Palestinians imprisoned in Israel are freed.’
Mashal’s statements came soon after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced, referring to Shalit, ‘Our son will be home in the coming days.’
Negotiations were initiated in Cairo on Thursday, October 6, under the mediation of Egyptian security and intelligence officials, and an agreement was signed earlier on Tuesday this week, Netanyahu said. Later in a ‘tweet,’ he thanked the Egyptian government and its security forces for their role in mediating and concluding the deal.
Mashal also thanked Egypt, as well as Qatar, Turkey, Syria, and Germany, all of whom had been involved in the negotiations, he said.
Hamas reported that large numbers of people were celebrating in rallies in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
‘Crowds of tens of thousands are heading towards the Khulafa Mosque in Jabalia refugee camp . . . in human floods of joy for the victory of the resistance and the completion of the prisoner exchange,’ the Hamas statement said.
Israel had made previous attempts to free Shalit through a prisoner swap with Hamas, but talks failed due to Israeli preconditions.