France welcomes Shalit release deal
France has welcomed the forthcoming release of Franco-Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. He will be exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, thanks to a deal announced by the Israeli government Tuesday.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed the agreement as a “major success” for Israel, while also thanking Egypt for brokering it.
And Foreign Minister Alain Juppé told France Info radio that France had worked hard to “convince both parties to reach an agreement”.
Sarkozy spoke by telephone to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to Shalit’s father, Noam, who along with his mother, Aviva, has been camping outside the prime minister’s residence for nearly 16 months to campaign for their 25-year-old son’s release.
The Israeli cabinet approved the deal by 26-3 with right-wing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and two other nationalist ministers voting against.
The Hamas movement, which controls Gaza and negotiated the deal, said that tens of thousands of Gazans celebrated on the streets on Tuesday.
Chief Khaled Meshaal confirmed the deal in an address from Damscus, saying that the Palestinians will be released in two phases, 450 being freed within a week and 550 in two months.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas welcomed the agreement, calling it an "achievement of the Palestinian people".
Israeli secret service chief Yoram Cohen denied reports that Marwan Barghouti, a raical member of Abbas’s Fateh movement, and Ahmed Saadat, of the left-wing armed group PFLP, were among those who would be freed.
The French Jewish pressure group, Crif, declared itself “moved and happy” at the news.
Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen announced Tuesday that 450 prisoners will be released within the coming days:
- 131 Gaza residents will be sent home;
- 163 prisoners from the West Bank will be sent to Gaza;
- 40 West Bankers will be sent abroad, although it is not immediately clear where;
- 96 will be allowed to return to their homes in the West Bank;
- 14 will return to their homes in east Jerusalem;
- Six Arab Israelis will return to their homes;
- 27 women prisoners will be released and two of them sent overseas.
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