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Israel to release 20 Palestinian prisoners for Shalit video

RIA Novosti

21:56 30/09/2009 TEL AVIV/GAZA, September 30 (RIA Novosti) - Israel is to release 20 Palestinian women from prison in exchange for a video that could prove an Israeli soldier abducted three years ago is alive, the Israeli prime minister's office said on Wednesday.

Gilad Shalit was seized in June 2006 by the Palestinian radical Islamist group Hamas while on patrol near the Gaza Strip and has not been seen since.

"The Israeli security cabinet decided to authorize the release of 20 Palestinian women detainees and prisoners," the statement said. In response, "Israel will receive updated and unequivocal proof of Gilad Shalit's well-being and status."

According to the statement, the deal was the result of an Egyptian initiative meant to build confidence ahead of the "decisive stages of negotiation" for Shalit's release.

"It is important that the entire world know that Gilad Shalit is alive and well and that Hamas is responsible for his well-being and fate," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted by the Haaretz daily as saying.

The 20 Palestinian women to be released have all served at least two thirds of their sentences, the paper said.

Abu Mujahid, spokesman for the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees, said the exchange, expected to take place on Friday, will be "very soon" followed by the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Earlier on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the military wing of Hamas, Abu Obeida, said that the deal showed there was progress toward a wider prisoner exchange, Haaretz said.

Last week, Egypt's foreign minister urged Israel to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit. Egypt is a mediator in Israeli-Palestinian talks on the issue.

In early September, Israeli authorities released nine of 30 Hamas lawmakers arrested in 2006 in response to Shalit's seizure.

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