Gilad Shalit, the Israeli military officer held captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip since 2006, will likely be back home in Israel sometime this week after Israeli officials agreed to free about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for his freedom.
The decision was voted on and approved by the Israeli cabinet during an emergency session early Wednesday morning, and the deal was later agreed upon by Hamas and Israeli officials in a Cairo hotel room, according to the Guardian. The agreement was mediated by Egypt with the assistance of Germany, Haaretz.com reports.
"If all goes as planned, Gilad will be back in Israel in the next few days with his family and his people," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said.
Among the more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to be freed are militants reportedly involved in some of the deadliest terrorist attacks against the Jewish state.
Twenty-six Israeli ministers voted in favor of the prisoner exchange, and three others voted against it, including Israel's National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau. According to Haaretz.com, Landau called the deal between his country and Hamas to free Shalit a "great victory for terrorism."
Laundau expressed the bitter-sweet sentiment some Israelis had in regard to obtaining Shalit's freedom from Hamas captivity after so many years.
"On the one hand of the scales you have Gilad Shalit – the Israeli soldier who was abducted because in all the preceding years there were many terrorists that were released and created incentives for his abduction. Opposite that, you know that if, as a result of this agreement, many terrorists are released, there is a tremendous incentive to murder Israelis and abduct additional (Israelis)," said Landau.
In the Gaza Strip, however, Palestinians celebrated what they saw as a victory against Israeli occupiers.
"Our heroes in Israeli prisons in exchange for one fighter," said Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, reports the Guardian. "One hundred kidnapped and arrested for no reason while fighting the occupation. I say this, to the Palestinians and freedom lovers in the world: we managed to destroy the shackles of the occupier."
According to media reports, 1,026 (or 1,027 depending on various reports) Palestinian prisoners are to be released, with the first wave of 479 or so being freed in about a week's time; the remaining prisoners will be released in about two months.
Shalit, 25, was abducted on June 25, 2006, when Hamas militants launched a raid into Israel from the Gaza Strip, killing two soldiers and capturing the young soldier, according to a timeline of events provided by Reuters.
Shalit will reportedly be released across the border from Gaza into Egypt, where he will then be flown to Germany before finally returning to Israel.