Gaza woman freed in last step of soldier-video swap

Gaza woman freed in last step of soldier-video swap

Israel freed a Palestinian woman prisoner to the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the last of 20 it has swapped for a videotape that provided the first visible evidence that a soldier captured in 2006 was still alive, Reuters reported.

Rawda Saed was taken to the coastal territory in a Red Cross vehicle, then driven to the offices of Gaza's Hamas Islamist leader Ismail Haniyeh, who said the prisoner releases suggested there was progress toward a deal to free Sergeant Gilad Shalit.

"We view with relief the serious movement in the prisoner swap file," Haniyeh said. "We stress that we will not abandon our responsibility toward our male and female prisoners."

The German- and Egyptian-mediated swap had stirred expectations that a deal could soon be reached to release Shalit in exchange for a wider Israeli prisoner amnesty, but officials on both sides said there was still some hard bargaining ahead.

Saed was arrested in 2007 while crossing the Gaza-Israel border. She had cited medical reasons for wanting to enter Israel, which accused her of plotting a suicide bombing.

Israel freed 19 other Palestinian inmates on Friday then received the two-minute tape of Shalit, who looked healthy and sounded coherent. In a proof-of-life gesture by Hamas, he held up a copy of an Arabic-language newspaper dated September 14.

For Shalit's release, Hamas has demanded that Israel free hundreds of Palestinians from its prisons, including many jailed for involvement in suicide bombings and lethal shootings. All told, more than 10,000 Palestinians are incarcerated in Israel.

Israeli newspaper editorials urged speedier work to recover Shalit, 23, who was seized in a June 2006 cross-border raid. Two other troops, and two Palestinian gunmen, died in the incident.

The soldier is a cause celebre in a country where most men and women face military conscription at age 18. Israeli television stations reported a high volume of viewing for the video, which has been broadcast repeatedly since Friday.

"Let's complete the swap," left-leaning Haaretz daily opined in the title of its main editorial. The mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth daily ran a banner headline quoting Shalit's own words from the video: "May I fulfill my dream of going free, at last."

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