JERUSALEM (Reuters) – YAHOO NEWS – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held an urgent cabinet session Tuesday to decide on a prospective deal with Hamas to swap Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a soldier held captive in Gaza for five years, Israeli officials said.
A spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing, Abu Ubeida, confirmed to Reuters a deal had been reached with Israel to free Gilad Shalit, adding “we are in the process of completing the technical arrangements to complete the deal within days.”
Netanyahu was quoted by an Israeli television station as saying “the window has been opened for an historic deal” to free Shalit, captured by Hamas militants tunneling under a border fence in June 2006.
A source involved in the talks said the deal had been mediated by Egypt and that it calls for freeing 1,000 prisoners in a two-stage arrangement, the first involving the release of 450 for the soldier, with the remaining 550 freed at a later time.
Israel’s Channel 2 television said both sides had shown greater flexibility in recent behind-the-scenes talks that were held.
The main sticking point in earlier negotiations had been Israel’s reluctance to meet Hamas’ demands to free prisoners convicted of involvement in lethal attacks against Israelis.
Israel has carried out several lopsided prisoner swaps in the past, notably in 1985 when hundreds of Palestinian prisoners were freed in exchange for several soldiers captured by a guerrilla group in Lebanon.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan)