The Israeli government has approved an agreement with the Islamist Hamas movement that will result in freedom for an Israeli soldier who has been held captive by Hamas for five years in the Gaza Strip.
In return for Hamas freeing Gilad Shalit, who was captured on June 25, 2006, Israel is to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
In the Israeli cabinet vote early today, 26 ministers were in favor and three opposed. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he expects Shalit to be returning home to Israel in the coming days.
"It is a symbolic day -- sadness mixed with happiness," Noam Shalit, father of the abducted Israeli soldier, told reporters in Jerusalem. "It's a symbolic day in which the Israeli government succeeded after more than five years, 1,935 hard days, and 1,935 long nights, to bring Gilad, our son, home. Today, we want to support and congratulate the prime minister on the courageous decision."
A spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in Gaza -- one of the three groups holding Shalit -- has said that the Israeli soldier has been informed that he would be freed.
Hamas leader Khaled Mish'al said Israel would release 1,027 prisoners in two stages. In the first stage, 450 prisoners will be released in exchange for Shalit, and the rest will be freed in two months. Twenty-seven women are among those due to be freed.
compiled from agency reports