Families Prepare for Hamas-Israel Swap Deal

Families of Palestinian prisoners and Gilad Shalit are preparing for the return of their relatives, a day after Hamas and Israel reached a historic deal freeing 1,027 Palestinians in exchange for the Israeli soldier.

No list of detainees to be freed, nor the exact dates of the swap, have yet been announced, but many Palestinians have started preparations for the possible return of their imprisoned family members.

Noam and Aviva Shalit left their protest tent outside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday and headed home to plan their son’s homecoming after more than five years of captivity in the Gaza Strip.

Gilad Shalit was captured by Hamas, the Palestinian faction which governs Gaza, in a cross-border raid in 2006.

Shalit, now 25 years old, will return home "in the coming days", Netanyahu said in a public address on Tuesday, though he did not specify a date.

On Wednesday, Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official, said Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, and his delegation had arrived in the Egyptian capital of Cairo to put "final touches" on details of the deal.

Meshaal will meet Egyptian intelligence officials and authorities on Thursday for additional discussions on the details of the Egypt- and Germany-brokered deal, Hamdan said.

In a televised address from Syria on Tuesday, Meshaal said the Palestinian detainees will be released in two phases: one in the next week and the second in two months, adding that the majority will be returned to their homes in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Anxiety and Skepticism

Scenes of celebration in the Gaza Strip and in Jerusalem greeted Tuesday’s announcement of the landmark Palestinian-Israeli prisoner-swap deal.

But such euphoria gave way to Gazans’ skepticism that the siege on their coastal enclave will ease and Israelis’ growing anxiety that the swap could lead to new violence.

Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston said the deal is not expected to have any real impact on the siege on Gaza, which intensifed at the time of Shalit’s capture in 2006.

"The siege is stilll very much in force even though we do have more imports now allowed into Gaza," Johnston said.

"The people of Gaza, they have really paid a very heavy price for the capture of Shalit – a five-, six-year-long blockade, with no end in sight.

"It’s important to note that originally, Hamas had wanted the siege to be lifted as part of any agreement about releasing Gilad Shalit but clearly that hasn’t happened. That issue appears to have quietly been dropped."

With news that more than 300 of the 1,027 to be freed are serving life terms for murder and other violent attacks, some Israelis have begun questioning whether Shalit’s freedom is worth possibly jeopardising the country’s security.

Al Jazeera’s Cal Perry, reporting from Jerusalem, said that in the hours and days that followed the announcement of the deal, there had been reflection on Netanyahu’s comments on "the need to balance bringing home Gilad Shalit with the security of Israel".
"Not everyone is going to be happy about the deal, as there are many – as the Israelis put it – who have blood on their hands," Perry said.

The agreement, which won the backing of Israel’s top military and defence chiefs, was approved by the government early on Wednesday, although Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and two others voted against it.

"This is a great victory for Hamas," National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau told Israeli army radio, shortly after voting against the deal.
(Al Jazeera and Agencies)

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