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Wednesday, October 12, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Israel, Hamas reach 'historic' POW-exchange agreement

JERUSALEM — Israel and Hamas have reached a deal for the release of more than 1,000 convicted insurgents in exchange for an Israel Army sergeant.


Officials said Israel and Hamas signed the PoW agreement on Oct. 11 in Cairo after the Islamic movement agreed to a two-phase release. They said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to obtain imminent Cabinet approval of the German-mediated deal, in which Sgt. Gilad Shalit would be released over the next week in exchange for the return of the Hamas military leadership in the West Bank.

"The window has been opened for an historic deal," Netanyahu said.

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Under the deal, confirmed by Hamas, Israel would free 450 Palestinian prisoners as Shalit would be taken from the Gaza Strip to neighboring Egypt, Middle East Newsline reported. In the second phase, Israel would release 550 Palestinians, most of them sentenced to life for killing civilians, and Shalit, abducted from his army base in 2006, would return home.

Official said the entire process, which would also include the release of Israeli Arab convicts, was expected to take several weeks. They said more than 200 Palestinians would be banned from returning to their homes in the West Bank.

"For the first time, the group [Hamas] agreed that senior members would not be released and that the number of those released to the West Bank would be reduced," Israel Security Agency director Yoram Cohen said.

The Palestinians set for release included Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, sentenced to five life terms for ordering the killing of civilians nearly a decade ago. Another Palestinian prisoner was identified as Ahmed Saadat, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, sentenced by Israel for the assassination of a senior Cabinet minister in 2001.

Negotiations were intensified in Cairo during September and included Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari, officials said. They said Hamas political leader Mahmoud Zahar, a former Palestinian Authority foreign minister, helped conclude the deal.

Officials acknowledged that the Hamas deal was expected to bolster the Islamist military wing in the West Bank. In 2011, they said, Hamas reorganized military cells in such cities as Hebron and Jerusalem and prepared suicide bombings of Israeli and Jewish targets.

On Oct. 11, the Israeli military indicted four alleged Hamas members for a March bombing in Jerusalem in which one person was killed and 67 injured. The indictment said the bombing was conducted by a Hamas cell in Hebron.

"The members of the cell planned an additional suicide-bomb attack which was intercepted due to their arrest," the military said.

In Damascus, Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Masha'al said Israel would release 1,027 Palestinians, including all female inmates. Masha'al said the first Israeli release would take place in a week and the second in December.

"This is a national achievement for the Palestinian people," Masha'al said. "We tried to include all Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails, and we promise the rest of the Palestinian detainees to liberate them."

For his part, Netanyahu did not provide details of the accord. Over the last year, Hamas is said to have rejected Israeli demands that Palestinians convicted of murder be sent abroad rather return to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"I do not wish to hide the truth from you," Netanyahu told the Cabinet in emergency session on late Oct. 11. "It is a very difficult decision."

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