Families of Palestinian prisoners and Gilad Shalit are preparing for the return of their relatives, a day after Hamas and Israel reached a historic deal to free the Israeli soldier in exchange for 1,027 Palestinians.
No list of detainees to be freed, nor the exact dates of the swap, have yet been announced, but many Palestinians have started preparations for the possible return of their imprisoned family members.
Noam and Aviva Shalit left their protest tent outside Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday and headed home to plan their son’s homecoming after more than five years of captivity.
Gilad Shalit was captured by Hamas, the Palestinian faction which governs Gaza, in a cross-border raid in 2006.
Shalit, now 25 years old, will return home “in the coming days”, Netanyahu said in a public address on Tuesday, though he did not specify a date.
In a televised address from Syria on Tuesday, Khaled Meshaal, leader of Hamas, said the Palestinian detainees will be released in two phases: one in the next week and the second in two months, adding that the majority will be returned to their homes in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Meshaal met with Morad Mowafi, Egypt’s intelligence chief, on Thursday to discuss logistics related to the swap. Meshaal also thanked Egypt for its role in the “intense negotiations…which led to this historic success for the [Palestinian] resistance”, reported Egyptian state television.
Anxiety and scepticism
Scenes of celebration in the Gaza Strip and in Jerusalem greeted Tuesday’s announcement of the prisoner-swap deal.
But such euphoria gave way to Gazans’ scepticism that the siege on their coastal enclave will ease and Israelis’ growing anxiety that the swap could lead to new violence.
Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston said the deal was not expected to have any real impact on the siege on Gaza, which intensifed at the time of Shalit’s capture in 2006.
“The siege is stilll very much in force even though we do have more imports now allowed into Gaza,” she said.
“The people of Gaza, they have really paid a very heavy price for the capture of Shalit – a five-, six-year-long blockade, with no end in sight.”
“It’s important to note that originally, Hamas had wanted the siege to be lifted as part of any agreement about releasing Gilad Shalit but clearly that hasn’t happened. That issue appears to have quietly been dropped.”
In Gaza, the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), one of the three groups which captured Shalit along with Hamas and a Salafi group called the Army of Islam, said they had informed the soldier his release was imminent.
“The PRC-Nasser Brigades informed Shalit, the prisoner it holds with the other factions, that the prisoner swap has been completed and it may be implemented in the next few days,” Abu Attaya told AFP.
The agreement, which won the backing of Israel’s top military and defence chiefs, was approved by the government early on Wednesday, although Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, and two others voted against it.
“This is a great victory for Hamas,” Uzi Landau, National Infrastructure Minister, told army radio, shortly after voting against the deal, which he said sent a clear message that “terror pays.”
Israel’s chief negotiator David Meidan said he was due in Egypt soon to finalise details of Shalit’s return home. “The mission is not complete yet; it will be when Gilad returns home. Let’s hope that will be in a matter of days,” he said at the start of a working meeting with President Shimon Peres.
The agreement, which won the backing of Israel’s top military and defence chiefs, was approved by the government early on Wednesday, although Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and two others voted against it.