Israel released 19 Palestinian women prisoners Friday in exchange for a recent proof-of-life videotape of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Israeli officials said.
The Palestinians were taken from Ofer detention camp outside Jerusalem. Eighteen were released to the West Bank; the 19th to Gaza. The former prisoners were brought to the area in a procession of vans, military jeeps and Red Cross vans. The deal was brokered indirectly by Egypt and Germany. A German mediator handed over the tape of Shalit to the Israelis on Friday morning, Israeli government officials said. The Israelis have lined up a host of officials to screen the footage of Shalit, the first time ever that the militant Palestinian group Hamas has offered a proof-of-life video. Among those scheduled to examine the tape is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who earlier this week said it was “important that the entire world know that Gilad Shalit is alive and well, and that Hamas is responsible for his well-being and fate.” Palestinian militants crossed into Israel from Gaza on June 25, 2006, and kidnapped Shalit, who was 19 at the time. Israel and Hamas have been negotiating his release through third-party mediators from Egypt and Germany, but talks have started and stalled numerous times.
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For Shalit’s family, one minute of film could ease three years of uncertainty. They, too, will screen the video. Israeli officials have not said whether the footage will be publicly released. That will probably depend on Shalit’s condition and the wishes of his family. Israel said it will continue to negotiate for Shalit’s release, but it expects the talks will be “long and arduous.” Shalit’s freedom has become a condition for the Israelis to consider ending a blockade of Gaza, which has economically wounded the Palestinian territory. The United Nations recently issued a scathing report accusing Israel of war crimes during its military offensive in Gaza last winter. But it also called on the Palestinians to release Shalit on humanitarian grounds.