Shalit to be freed on Tuesday

An Israeli soldier looks yesterday across the border of Gaza, where Gilad Shalit is spending his last days of captivity. (Flash 90)

JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—St.-Sgt. Gilad Shalit, kidnapped from Israel by Hamas five years ago and held incommunicado since then somewhere in the Gaza Strip, is to be freed in a prisoner exchange this coming Tuesday, the IDF announced Wednesday.

Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz relayed the news personally to the Shalit family on a visit to their home in the Galilee community of Mitzpeh Hila. Gantz, accompanied by senior officers, told the family some of the details of the impending swamp during a 40-minute visit. Some particulars were still unclear, especially the procedure of Gilad Shalit’s handover by Hamas to Egyptian officials, who would then transfer him to Israel.

Sources said this exchange would apparently take place at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza. Shalit would then be handed over to Israel at the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, from where he would be flown by helicopter to an Israel Air Force base somewhere in Israel and be reunited with his parents, Noam and Aviva, and other family members.

At the air force base, 479 terrorists transferred from Ketziot Prison in the South in the first phase of the prisoner release will be exchanged. Of this number, 279 were serving life sentences. They will be allowed
to return to their homes in east Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

Visitors streamed to the Shalit home following the end of the first holiday of the eight-day festival of Succot (Tabernacles). Prominent among them were several victims of Palestinian terrorism who came to express their support for the deal to free Gilad Shalit.

Two of them were Karnit Goldwasser, the widow of Ehud Goldwasser, and Tzvi Regev, the father of Eldad Regev. Goldwasser and Regev were kidnapped by Hezbollah on the Lebanese border in 2006, sparking the Second Lebanon War.

Their bodies were returned to Israel in 2008 in exchange for Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, who was serving four life terms for murdering a policeman and members of the Haran family from Nahariya in 1979. Among his victims was Einat Haran, four years old, whom he beat to death.

Regev told Haaretz that he said to the Shalits and Gantz that Gilad Shalit’s return was “the closing of a circle after many years that we struggled together. I am glad for Noam and Aviva and glad that Gilad is returning home. In our case everyone knows how our boys did not return…and we wish only good things for Gilad and his parents.”

Yesterday Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu phoned the Egyptian interim ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and thanked him for his country’s help in negotiating the prisoner exchange. “You have made great and successful efforts over the past few months,” Netanyahu’s office quoted him as saying. “Your assistance warms the hearts of all Israeli citizens.”

Meanwhile, the Egyptian daily Al-Masri al-Yom reported that Egypt and Israel are in the final stages of reaching a deal for the exchange of Israeli-American accused spy Ilan Grapel for 81 Egyptian prisoners held by Israel.

“The deal has already reached an advanced stage,” the paper said, quoting “well-informed Egyptian sources.”

Emory University law student Grapel, 27, was arrested in Cairo in June on espionage charges, which have been repudiated by Israel.