Ministers endorse prisoner exchange deal that would see end of five-year captivity ordeal for Hamas-held soldier. Vote carried 26 to three; Israel to release 1,000 prisoners but deal will exclude top Hamas prisoners.
After 1,935 days in Hamas captivity, Gilad Shalit is heading home: The Cabinet voted Tuesday in favor of a prisoner exchange deal that will secure the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit after five years in Hamas captivity. The vote was carried 26 to three. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau and Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon opposed the deal.
"This is a symbolic day of happiness blended with sorrow. The government succeeded after five years and 1,935 long nights in bringing Gilad home," Noam Shalit, Gilad's father told reporters shortly after the vote's results were announced.
The deal will see Israel release 1,027 security prisoners, including hundreds who were directly involved in murderous terror attacks that claimed hundreds of Israeli lives, but the deal will still exclude top Hamas prisoners Israel deemed too dangerous to release.
No details were available as to the exact timeline of the prisoner exchange, but Hamas Deputy Politburo Chief Moussa Abu Marzouk said that the deal could be carried out as early as the next fortnight.
"We want to thank all those who stood by us day and night through the years in this long struggle; we also want to thank the millions of supporters in Israel and abroad. As far as we are concerned, this will all be over when we see Gilad here," Shalit said.
Gilad's mother, Aviva, added: "The joy is indescribable, but until we see Gilad we will keep our feelings under control."
Asked about the cost Israel agreed to pay to secure his son's release, Shalit said: "The prisoners are not all terrorists. Some of them would have been released sooner or later.
"I want to remind everyone that we didn't set the price for the deal, but rather the price was set by two governments and numerous security officials. The price is heavy, but we didn’t decide on it."
Seizing a window of opportunity
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet that given the turmoil in the Arab world and the recent situation in Egypt, it was impossible to venture whether "the future would have allowed us to get a better deal – or any deal at all for that matter. This is a window of opportunity that might have been missed."
Shin Bet Chief Yoram Cohen, Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Benny Gantz reviewed the security aspects and implications of the deal prior to the cabinet's vote and recommended its implementation.
Lieberman said earlier that his decision to vote against the deal was "made with a heavy heart" – due to what he called "the grave repercussions the deal will have on Israel."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai voted in favor of the deal: "I want to tell Noam, Aviva and the entire family that today we took a big step forward towards Gilad's return. I hope that over the next few days we will not make mistakes and secure his safe return, Barak said.
"Gilad is still not here and I suggest that everyone maintain their composure until we see him here at home with us," he added.
"This was a very difficult decision, but we have a profound commitment to ensure the return of any abducted solider," Vilnai said. "I have faith in the IDF and the defense establishment that they would be able to deal with the implications on the ground. I understand those who appose the deal, but voting in favor of it was the right thing to do."
Minister Landau, who voted against the deal said: "Let there be no doubt – the public and the government are both praying for Gilad's safe return. (…) But this deal is a triumph for terror and it's detrimental to Israel's security and deterrence.
"It was a serious debate and I would like to hope that by voting against the cabinet will thoroughly review its policy from this day on," he said.
Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni congratulated the Shalit family: "Today a heavy load has been lifted from our shoulders, but we must also embrace the families of the terror victims who are experiencing difficult moment," she said.