Gilad Shalit deal will see 1,000 Palestinian prisoners go free

Gilad Shalit

Gilad Shalit

More details have emerged about the deal made between Israel and Hamas last week to bring Gilad Shalit home.

On Tuesday night Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the soldier, captured at the Gaza border more than five years ago, would be back with his family within days.

It is understood that the deal, made possible by German and Egyptian mediators, will see more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners accused of militant activity released from jail early.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said the first 450 would be released next week, with the remaineder within the following two months.

Mashaal hailed the deal as "a national achievement for the whole Palestinian people" and warned that those Palestinians who were brought home would "return to the national struggle."

The swap was supported by the majority of the Israeli cabinet, although three ministers voted against it. Uzi Landau criticised it for giving Palestinians an "incentive to kill Israelis and to carry out further abductions".

Speaking to his cabinet last night, Mr Netanyahu said he had seen Sergeant Shalit's release as his "first priority" when he took office in 2009.

He said he did not wish to hide the "truth" about how difficult the decision to agree a swap had been.

"I feel for the families of victims of terror, I appreciate their suffering and distress, I am one of them," he said, referring to his brother Yoni Netanyahu, killed during israel's rescue of hostages in Entebbe.

"I believe that we have reached the best deal we could have at this time, when storms are sweeping the Middle East. I do not know if in the near future we would have been able to reach a better deal or any deal at all.

"It is very possible that this window of opportunity, that opened because of the circumstances, would close indefinitely and we would never have been able to bring Gilad home at all."

There were celebrations all night in Jerusalem at the tent where the soldier's parents have camped for months to keep pressure on the Netan ya hu government.

The family remained wary of celebrating too soon, but Gilad's brother Yoel said they were very excited.

Speaking as the country prepared for the festival of Succot, he said: "We hope this is our last holiday without Gilad."

The soldier was 19 when he was kidnapped and in August turned 25. He ha sso far been in captivity for five years and 109 days.

Last updated: 1:22pm, October 12 2011