GAZA, (Reuters) – Israel will free 20 Palestinian women in exchange for information from Hamas on the condition of an Israeli soldier held in the Gaza Strip, an Egyptian security source, Hamas and the Israeli government said on Wednesday.
Egyptian and German mediators would continue to work on a deal to exchange the soldier, Gilad Shalit, for the hundreds of Hamas prisoners the Islamist movement has been demanding, the Egyptian source told Reuters when breaking the news.
In the meantime, Israel would receive proof Shalit was alive and details about his condition.
A source close to the negotiations said he expected the women prisoners and the information on Shalit to be exchanged on Friday. Israel said it would publish a list of the women to be freed, to allow objections to their release by its citizens.
Israel would receive in exchange a one-minute videotape of Shalit, a source in one of the Gaza militant groups involved in his capture told Reuters.
“This is a humanitarian gesture,” said the Egyptian source, who has been close to Cairo’s mediation efforts that have been going on between Gaza’s rulers and Israel for many months.
“Israel will release 20 female Palestinian prisoners in exchange for proof of life and of the condition of Gilad Shalit,” the source added. “This is a result of the efforts of the Egyptian and German mediators.”
A statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office confirmed Israel had decided to free the women, calling it a confidence-building gesture before critical stages in negotiations for Shalit’s release. “According to the proposal by mediators, Israel will receive updated and unequivocal proof of Gilad Shalit’s condition,” the statement said, without giving a date for the women’s release.
A spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing, Abu Ubeida, told a news conference in Gaza that 19 of the women to be released were from the West Bank and the 20th, who was from Gaza, would be released along with her child.
“This is a success for the Egyptian and German mediators,” Abu Ubeida said. He said four of the women to be released were members of Hamas, while 5 were members of the rival Fatah movement. A further 3 were members of Islamic Jihad and the others were from other Palestinian groups.
Shalit, a young conscript who was a corporal at the time, was seized by fighters from Hamas and allied groups during a raid on an Israeli border base in 2006. He has not been visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Israel holds more than 10,000 Palestinians in its jails. Hamas is negotiating for the release of hundreds of its members.