Netanyahu: Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit days away from freedom

By Jennifer Lipman, October 11, 2011

The Israeli Prime Minister has confirmed that a deal is underway to bring home the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

According to Mr Netanyahu's official Twitter feed, the 25-year-old will be coming home within days.

"We have concluded arduous negotiations with Hamas to release Gilad Shalit. He will be coming home in the next few days," said a message posted on Twitter.

The Prime Minister’s office added that Sergeant Shalit’s parents, Noam and Aviva, had been kept up to date about all developments.

"The agreement to release Shalit was signed in initials last Thursday and today was signed formally by the two parties."

Earlier this evening Mr Netanyahu convened a special cabinet meeting to discuss the plan, understood to a prisoner swap. Israel Radio reported that 1,000 Palestinian prisoners would be released in return for the soldier being freed.

Sergeant Shalit has been in captivity for more than five years, since he was kidnapped in June 2006 at the Gaza border. Hamas has repeatedly refused to allow the Red Cross to visit him.

The UK Foreign Secretary welcomed the agreement. "Holding him in captivity has been utterly unjustified from the beginning and yet it has gone on for five long years," said William Hague.

"We have always called for his unconditional release. We are pleased that this long overdue development is finally taking place.

"Mr Shalit’s long captivity has been painful for his family and I hope that he will be reunited with them as soon as possible."

If Sergeant Shalit's release goes ahead, it will be celebrated across Israel and the Jewish world.

However there are still many other Israeli soldiers who are considered missing, including Druze soldier Majdi Halabi, who has not been seen since 2005, and Ron Arad, captured in 1986.

Last updated: 7:40pm, October 11 2011