JERUSALEM — Israel and Hamas on Tuesday announced that an Israeli soldier abducted to Gaza five years ago would be swapped for about 1,000 Palestinians held by Israel and accused of militant activity.
Israel's government approved the deal early today following a three-hour debate after both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal announced the agreement in televised comments.
Netanyahu said the captured soldier, Sgt. Gilad Schalit, would return home within days. Mashaal, portraying the agreement as a victory, said the Palestinian prisoners would be freed in two stages over two months.
The deal maintains a decades-long tradition of lopsided exchanges that have come under increasing criticism in Israel.
Hamas and Israel are bitter enemies. Hamas has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel, killing hundreds, and Israel blockaded Gaza after Hamas seized power there in 2007, carrying out an invasion in 2009 to try to stop daily rocket attacks on Israel. More than 1,500 Gaza Palestinians have been killed in Israeli raids and airstrikes since the soldier was captured.
Schalit was captured in a cross-border raid in June 2006 by Palestinian militants who burrowed into Israel and dragged him into Gaza after killing two other soldiers.