Partial prisoner swap agreed amid mounting Gaza violence

13:55, October 01, 2009      

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Israel and Islamic Hamas movement agreed on Wednesday to release 20 female prisoners for information on captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit amid escalated violence between the Israeli army and militants in the Gaza Strip.

Abu Obeida, spokesman for al-Qassam Brigades, Gaza-ruling Hamas movement's armed wing, confirmed at an urgent news conference held in Gaza City that a deal had been reached with Israel thanks to the mediation efforts by Egypt and Germany to finalize a prisoner swap.

"There has been an agreement to free 20 Palestinian female prisoners from the occupation's prisons for exchanging information about the Zionist soldier Gilad Shalit," the masked spokesman read a leaflet signed by the group.

Hamas armed wing and two other less influential armed groups, including the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), kidnapped Shalit in June 2006 when attacking an Israeli army base just outside southeastern Gaza Strip. Two other soldiers and six Palestinians were killed.

Shalit's captors demanded from Israel through Egypt, which has been mediating between the two sides, the release of some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including 450 serving life imprisonment as well as female, children, sick and old prisoners.

"This is the first step towards finalizing an honorable prisoner swap deal, achieved by the captors of the Zionist soldier," said Abu Obeida, without clarifying what kind of information would be handed over to Israel.

Meanwhile, Abu Mujahid, spokesman for the PRC, said in a statement faxed to reporters that the Shalit captors will hand over to Israel through the Egyptian and German mediators a one-minute video tape showing Shalit is alive.

Abu Mujahid expected that the swap deal "will see the light soon," indicating the deal would soon be implemented.

Abu Obeida said the 20 female prisoners are: 4 women from Hamas,5 from Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas, 3 from Islamic Jihad (Holy War) movement, 7 independents, and one from the Popular front (PFLP).

"The 20 female prisoners would include 19 from the West Bank and one from the Gaza Strip," said Abu Obeida.

Israel has said the deal would be based on receiving a video tape for Shalit.

An Egyptian security official told Xinhua "A single proof would pave the way for a complete prisoner exchange and will support all parties' aspiration to continue their efforts to end this problem."

As Hamas and Israel were to take the first step towards a final prisoner swap, violence in the Gaza Strip has mounted in the past few days between the Israeli army and militants in the Gaza Strip. The latter launched several homemade rockets from Gaza at southern Israel.

Gaza emergency chief Mo'aweya Hassanein told reporters that two Palestinians were killed and seven wounded after Israeli war jets carried out two airstrikes at targets in the border area between southern Gaza Strip and Egypt.

Witnesses said Israeli F-16 warplanes fired missiles at the smuggling tunnels dug under the area between the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah and Egypt.

The Gazans use the underground tunnels to defy the over-two-year Israeli blockade after Hamas seized control of the coastal strip in mid June 2007.

In recent days, militants in Gaza launched homemade rockets at Israel in alleged responses to the Israeli practices against the Palestinians and against al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem.

Senior Israeli army officials warned that Israel would consider a large-scale offensive in the Gaza Strip if militants keep launching rockets at Israel, according to Israeli media.

Israel waged a 22-day massive military offensive in the strip in December and January, leaving more than 1,400 people killed and thousands of houses destroyed.

An undeclared fragile ceasefire has been in force since mid-January. However, rockets were fired at Israel from time to time, followed by Israeli airstrikes at smuggling tunnels in southern Gaza.

Source:Xinhua
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