U.K. 'Welcomes' Gilad Shalit Prisoner Exchange Deal

British Foreign Secretary Hague says that holding Shalit in captivity has been 'utterly unjustified from the beginning'; French President Sarkozy expresses his joy over the news of Shalit's impending release.

The United Kingdom welcomes the recently signed deal between Israel and Hamas that would secure the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Tuesday.

Hague's comments came following official confirmation that a deal that would free the Israeli soldier, held captive in the Gaza Strip since 2006, has indeed by signed, and awaits the approval of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague

In as statement released mere hours following news of the prisoner exchange deal, Hague wrote: "I welcome the agreement between Israel and Hamas to release Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, next month as part of a prisoner exchange."

"Holding him in captivity has been utterly unjustified from the beginning and yet it has gone on for 5 long years," the British FM said, adding that London has "always called for his unconditional release."

"We are pleased that this long overdue development is finally taking place, he added, saying: "Mr. Shalits long captivity has been painful for his family and I hope that he will be reunited with them as soon as possible."
The U.K. supports all such efforts to build confidence and trust between all parties, he added.

Referring to the newly announced deal, Netanyahu said earlier Tuesday that "in the coming days we will return Gilad to the bosom of his parents, Aviva and Noam, to his brother Yoel, his sister Hadas, his grandfather Tzvi and the entire people of Israel."

"Two and a half years ago, with the forming of [my] government, I took it upon myself as my most significant task to return Gilad to his people and his family and return him alive and well," the premier said, adding: "Gilad has spend five years in the most horrible of captivities, without us knowing what was his condition."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was joyous at news of the agreement that will bring Gilad Shalit his freedom, after living in captivity since July 25, 2006, a press release by the government of France said.

Sarkozy spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu on Tuesday evening and congratulated him on his diplomatic accomplishment. Sarkozy also spoke with Noam Shalit, who he has been in contact with over efforts to secure his sons release. Sarkozy expressed his happiness at the impending release of Gilad.

Sarkozy also expressed gratitude to those who contributed to the agreement, including the Egyptians for their role in the matter.