shalit - Reuters - October 12 2011
Noam Shalit, the father of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, speaks to the media at a protest tent outside the residence of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, October 11, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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The family of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held in captivity in Gaza for the last five years, received with joy the news that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet voted early Wednesday morning to approve a prisoner swap that will have Shalit returned to Israel in the days to come.

Speaking to the press in their protest tent in front of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, Shalit’s family thanked the government for voting in favor of the proposal to exchange more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Shalit. They also thanked their many supporters and well-wishers who stood in solidarity with them.

“After 5 years, 1935 days and long nights, the government of Israel is returning our son Gilad to us,” Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, said minutes after the results of the vote were announced. “We bless the government for its courageous decision, despite the long stretch of time that has passed, this being the second sitting Prime Minister while Gilad has been in captivity.”

“We want to thank all of the activists that stood with us all these years. They stood by our side during the long sisyphic struggle, and all our supporters, in Israel and throughout the world,” he added.

“As far as we are concerned, it will only be over when we see Gilad, descending the staircase, entering the home - only then will the circle be closed,” Shalit said. He added that the family will be dismantling their protest tent in Jerusalem and returning home.

Twenty-six ministers voted in favor of the deal, and three ministers - Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau of Yisrael Beiteinu and Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon of Likud - voted against the proposal.

According to the agreement framework presented by Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen, the deal Netanyahu brought before the cabinet included, at first, the release of 450 Palestinian prisoners, including 280 with life sentences.

110 prisoners will be released to their homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, out of whom 55 are Hamas men, with the rest belonging to Fatah and the other Palestinian groups.

According to the deal, 131 Gaza residents will be released back to the coastal Strip, many of whom are reportedly top Hamas operatives. Another 203 prisoners will be expelled from the West Bank, 40 of whom will be deported overseas and the rest to Gaza.

In addition, six Israeli Arab prisoners who have been serving for many years will also be released to their homes. The deal also specifies the release of 27 female inmates: terrorists Ahlam Tamimi and Amna Muna will be deported, while the rest of the female inmates are expected to be released to their homes.