The video of Gilad Shalit will be handed to government officials Friday, through the German mediator in the negotiations for the captured soldier's release. In exchange, Israel is releasing 20 female Palestinian prisoners. Nineteen are to be released Friday, and the other woman on Sunday.
Top civilian and military officials in Israel say they hope a deal for Shalit's release can be completed in the coming months. They base their cautious optimism on the success of the German mediator in creating a negotiating mechanism that both Israel and Hamas can accept, as well as on the fact that this first stage in the swap has raised the level of mutual trust in the talks.
Egyptian sources involved in the negotiations, as well as Hamas sources, emphasized Thursday, however, that the "video deal" is not a breakthrough and the negotiations for Shalit's release can be expected to continue for some time. The Egyptian sources said the deal has nothing to do with the main prize. "It's a positive step, but it must be understood that the work on the comprehensive deal is continuous and there are significant areas of disagreement," one Egyptian source said.
Sources in Hamas said that most of the contention now is over a group of prisoners serving life terms, as well as a way to allow for the release of other prisoners who Israel is refusing to permit to return to their homes in the West Bank. "There is disagreement over the expulsion of dozens of prisoners," one Hamas source said, "and how long they'll be forced to remain in exile. Hamas is demanding that their exile be limited in time."
The Israeli version is that both parties recently worked out an agreement of principles that outlines the timetable and stages of the final swap.
The one-minute video of Shalit is to be handed over Friday to Haggai Hadas, who heads the Israeli negotiating team. He will give a copy later Friday to Shalit's family, which is expected to view it sometime during the afternoon at their home in the rural Galilee community of Mitzpeh Hila. It will be the first time that they have seen video footage of Gilad since his capture in June 2006.
The tape will also be seen Friday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the heads of the country's military.
At around the same time that the tape is being handed over to Hadas, the Palestinian prisoners are to be taken from the Sharon Prison to Ofer Prison, west of Ramallah. Those who live in the West Bank will then be allowed to return to their homes.
As of last night no official announcement had been moved as to whether copies of the video would be given to Israeli media outlets for broadcast. The negotiating teams seem to be leaning toward preventing its distribution in order to avoid the expected groundswell of public pressure on the cabinet to approve an immediate deal for Shalit's release, even at the expense of giving in to Hamas' demands. Senior Hamas officials said Thursday that the decision about the tape's broadcast is Israel's to make.
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