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2 Oct, 2009 10:14

Israel releases Palestinian prisoners for hostage video

Israel has freed 19 Palestinian women from their prisons in exchange for a video proving that captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is alive. The one minute recording of Gilad was reportedly filmed recently.

Yusefa Al-Baid, mother of one of the women due to be freed says that her prayers have been answered. Soon she will be hugging the daughter she has not seen for months.

“I can’t wait and it feels like time is dragging so slowly,” she said. “I am really happy about the deal.”

It is six years now since 34-year-old Hiyam Al-Baid was snatched from an Internet café. Her mother says she did nothing wrong but Israelis accuse her of belonging to an illegal organization.

Hiyam is one of twenty female Palestinian prisoners Israel is handing over in exchange for a video recording of its soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured nearly three-and-a-half years ago by Palestinian militants.

The tape would be the first significant sign that Shalit is alive. The exchange is seen as a down-payment for a broader swap in which he himself would be traded for many more Palestinians.

On the streets of Palestine people support the release of Shalit for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Moreover, they say until peace comes they will continue to support the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers for the rights of Palestinian prisoners.

Two months ago Mohammed Mansour was released from an Israeli jail after serving twenty-five years for putting explosives on an Israeli bus.

His name was on the list of prisoners to be exchanged for Shalit, but his sentence was up before either the Israelis or Palestinians could agree on a deal.

“As someone who’s been in prison, I know what kind of suffering a prisoner goes through and how much their families wait for their release,” Mansour said. “Because of this, I will support every way to release Palestinian prisoners.”

Until now Hamas has not allowed the Red Cross to visit Gilad Shalit. The only information they have handed over about him is several letters and an audio recording.

”Gilad Shalit is a special case as Israeli security forces want to know his whereabouts. Because of this he will be in a very safe place,” Mansour said. “It is not that Hamas rejects passing on information about him – it’s just dangerous for them to do so.”

He added that the soldier is most likely being treated well as the people who took him are religious. Still, Israelis believe that Palestinians apply double standards.

It is said that Israel allows their Palestinian prisoners access to lawyers, their families and international bodies. However, some argue that a lot more needs to be done to improve the lives of the 11,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Heleme Armelet of the Palestinian Prisoners Society said the reason why Palestinians support kidnaps lies in the fact that Israel does not comply with international agreements.

”The parents and relatives of Palestinian prisoners are demanding that more soldiers be kidnapped in order for more Palestinian prisoners to be released,” said Heleme Armelet of Palestinian prisoners society. “They say Israel never upheld its side of the Oslo Accords to release all long-term prisoners, and so the only option we have is to kidnap soldiers.”

In this light, Israel fears that after the first part of the videotape exchange goes into effect on Friday, it will encourage more deals of this kind to be made in the future.