Washington, Oct. 11 - The Israeli cabinet has approved a landmark deal for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held hostage in Gaza by Hamas for five years after being kidnapped.
In exchange for Gilad's safe return, the Israeli government has agreed to release approximately 1,000 prisoners, approximately 300 of whom had received life sentences for their crimes.
"We have concluded arduous (sic) negotiations with
#Hamas to release #Gilad #Shalit. He will be coming home in the next few days," an official tweet from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's twitter account read Tuesday.
"The agreement to release
#Shalit was signed in initials last Thursday and today was signed formally by the two parties," read an updated tweet.
Both Germany and Egypt were involved in the deal and are receiving the thanks of the Israeli government for their role in brokering the exchange.
Hamas and Egyptian officials also confirmed Tuesday that a deal had been reached.
The announcement ends a five-year nightmare for the Shalit family and the entire Israeli public, which has followed closely the fate of the 25-year-old.
Shalit was captured by Hamas operatives on June 25, 2006. He has been held incommunicado in the Gaza Strip and had been denied Red Cross visits by Hamas, contrary to international law. The last hard evidence that Shalit was still alive came in a September 2009 video released by Iran-backed Hamas.
On-and-off negotiations between Israel and Hamas, brokered at different times by Egypt and Turkey, had occasionally reached final stages that raised hopes in Israel for Shalit's release. These collapsed each time because of sparring over the conditions of a prisoner swap.
Also on Tuesday, another rocket was fired from Gaza into southern Israel, bringing the total to 533 rockets fired in 2011 alone.
Hamas is an Iran-backed terror organization- as designated by the U.S. Department of State and European governments- based in Gaza that has fired thousands of rockets at Israeli population centers and has carried out numerous, deadly suicide bombings.
The Hamas Charter calls for the killing of Jews, saying that "The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!"