Tuesday 11 October 2011 15.15 EDT
Israeli and Hamas officials have reached a deal that would secure release of the Israeli soldier in the next few days.
Israeli and Hamas officials agreed a prisoner swap deal to secure the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held in captivity in the Gaza Strip by Hamas for five years.
Following an emergency cabinet meeting last night the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, made a nationally televised announcement to say the historic deal had been struck. Under the terms of the deal Israel will release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
"Today it was finally summarised and both sides signed," he said. Netanyahu said the captured Israeli soldier would be returning home "in the coming days", news which sparked scenes of celebration as tens of thousands of people poured onto the streets of Gaza.
Netanyahu said he understood the pain of Israeli families who have lost loved ones to violence, but said he had reached "the best deal we could get" given the turmoil in the region.
He also said he had telephoned Shalit's family and told them he was carrying out his promise to bring their son and grandson home.
The deal will bring home Shalit, who was captured in a cross-border raid in June 2006 by Palestinian militants who entered Israel and dragged him into Gaza. His capture has been a central justification for Israel's five-year blockade of Gaza.
Little has been known about his fate since then. Shalit's father, Noam, has become a well-known public figure through a campaign to win his son's freedom, leading demonstrations and sleeping in a tent outside Netanyahu's residence. Dozens of Israelis converged on the tent to offer support to the family.
There have been many attempts to negotiate Shalit's release in the past but this is the first time that a successful deal has been reached.
Abu Abadia, a spokesperson for the military wing of Hamas, told Israeli media that under the terms of the deal Israel will release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. This number includes 15 high security inmates said to have been directly involved in terror attacks, and 200 who will not be permitted to return to the West Bank.
A source involved in the talks told Reuters the deal called for freeing the prisoners in a two-stage arrangement, the first involving the release of 450 for the soldier, and the remaining 550 afterwards.
Details of how the deal was reached have not yet been confirmed but it is understood that both Egyptian and German diplomats played a significant role in the negotiations. German mediator Gerard Conrad is reported to have flown into Cairo on a private jet last week for a meeting that lasted several days and during which he was scheduled to meet with several senior Egyptian officials.
Reports of renewed talks between Hamas and Israel mediated by Egypt were first reported in mid-September. Al-Hayat newspaper reported that the Hamas delegation, headed by the leader of its military wing Ahmed al-Jabari, was anxious to reach a deal quickly.
In previous negotiations, Conrad has proved successful at ironing out many differences of opinion that have prevented a deal being reached in the past. These stumbling blocks have included the number of Palestinian militants that will be released, how many of those will be exiled from the West Bank following their release, and the period over which they will be freed.
This is great news! I pray a deal has finally been reached for his release.