Israeli man swapped, Palestinians released in prisoner exchange

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Noam, left, and Aviva Schalit, parents of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, sit in a protest tent in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

JERUSALEM — In a much-anticipated prisoner exchange that could have broad implications, Israel and Hamas on Tuesday announced that an Israeli soldier abducted to Gaza five years ago would be swapped for about 1,000 Palestinians held by Israel and accused of militant activity.

Israel’s government was convening Wednesday to approve the deal, but that seemed a formality after both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal announced the agreement in televised comments.

Netanyahu said the captured soldier, Sgt. Gilad Schalit, would return home within days. Mashaal, portraying the agreement as a victory, said the Palestinian prisoners would be freed in two stages over two months.

Hamas and Israel are bitter enemies. Hamas has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel, killing hundreds, and Israel blockaded Gaza after Hamas seized power there in 2007, carrying out a large-scale invasion in 2009 to try to stop daily rocket attacks on Israel. More than 1,500 Gaza Palestinians have been killed in Israeli raids and airstrikes since the soldier was captured.

In the northern Gaza town of Jebaliya, thousands of Hamas supporters flocked the streets, led by masked militants. Cars with loudspeakers played praise for Hamas. Thousands of other Gazans rushed to their border with Egypt, clutching Palestinian and Egyptian flags, tossing flowers and cheering.