Abducted soldier Gilad Shalit is expected to be released on Tuesday after Israel and Hamas communicated intensely via Egyptian mediators Wednesday to hammer out the final details.
As the plans appear now, Shalit will be taken from the Gaza Strip into Sinai and from there into Israel through one of the border crossings with Egypt. Once he reaches Sinai, the Israelis will release 27 female Palestinian security prisoners. When Shalit enters Israel after five years in captivity, 450 major prisoners, whose identities have already been agreed on between Israel and Hamas, will be released.
The agreement calls for Israel to release another 550 prisoners of its choosing within two months. Israel has pledged that the 550 will all be security prisoners and not car thieves.
Sources in the Israel Defense Forces say the IDF is preparing for Shalit's arrival and the meeting with his family after preliminary medical examinations.
An Egyptian source involved in the negotiations confirmed to Haaretz statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's representative at the talks, David Median, that Egypt has conveyed Hamas' guarantees that Shalit is alive and well.
But Shalit's mental state is the greatest concern. In the brief video of Shalit that Hamas gave to Israel two years ago, the soldier's mental state appeared surprisingly good under the circumstances, security experts said.
The IDF, which is expected to complete its plans shortly for Shalit's return to Israel, is still concerned about weak points in the plan to release the soldier, especially when he is moved from Gaza into Sinai.
Among the prisoners to be released are 280 serving life sentences, among them those responsible for major terror attacks such as the 2001 bombing of the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem, the beating to death of two IDF soldiers in Ramallah in 2000, the 1989 attack on bus 405, the abduction of soldier Nachshon Wachsman, who was killed during a rescue attempt, and the abduction and murder of soldiers Avi Sasportas, Ilan Sa'adon and Shahar Simani.
Before their release, prisoners will be required to sign a pledge not to return to terror. But Shin Bet security service chief Yoram Cohen said experience shows that 60 percent of the people released return to terror.
Still, Cohen said Wednesday that while damage to security could be expected from the deal, the agreement was the best Israel could achieve.
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz visited the Shalit family yesterday at their home in the Galilee community of Mitzpeh Hila. Gilad's grandfather, Zvi Shalit, was also present.
Gantz was accompanied by the head of the IDF's Personnel Directorate, Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, and other senior officers.
During the 40-minute visit, Gantz reported to the family on the details of the swap. He said that some details had still not been finalized, particularly those involving the soldier's transfer from Hamas to the Egyptians at the Rafah crossing.
Shalit will apparently be brought into Israel at the Kerem Shalom crossing, handed over to Israeli officials and then taken by helicopter to an Israel Air Force base in central Israel. There he will meet with his parents, Noam and Aviva, his brother Yoel and his brother's partner, Ya'ara Winkler.
Gantz did not speak to reporters, who have been near the house since the Shalits left their protest tent in Jerusalem for home Wednesday night.
Among the visitors to the Shalit home last night were Karnit Goldwasser, the widow of Ehud Goldwasser, and Zvi Regev, the father of Eldad Regev. Goldwasser and Regev were kidnapped by Hezbollah on the northern border in 2006, sparking the Second Lebanon War. Their bodies were returned to Israel in 2008 in exchange for Lebanese militant Samir Kuntar, imprisoned for the murders of a policeman and members of the Haran family from Nahariya in 1979.
Regev said he told 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."
Karnit Goldwasser told the media after her visit that she had come to embrace Aviva Shalit, with whom she had been in contact for many years. "I rejoice in their joy," she said.
The head of the Israel Prison Service, Aharon Franco, is to meet today at 8 A.M. at the service's headquarters in Lod with his top brass to approve plans for the prisoner release.
All furloughs of prison service personnel have been canceled ahead of the release, one of the service's biggest operations ever.
Once the operational plans are approved today, they will be submitted to Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who will give the order to launch the operation.
Prisoners will apparently only begin to be moved on Sunday. On Sunday and Monday they are expected first to be brought to Ketziot Prison in southern Israel. They will be transferred in prison service vehicles from the various security prisons - Megiddo, Ofer, Nafkha and Ramon - as well as from general prisons with security wings such as Gilboa, Hadarim and Eshel.
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