GAZA (Reuters) - Israel will free 20 Palestinian women for information from Hamas on the condition of an Israeli soldier held in the Gaza Strip, an Egyptian security source and the Israeli prime minister’s office said on Wednesday.
Egyptian and German mediators would continue to work on a deal to exchange the soldier, Gilad Shalit, for the hundreds of Hamas prisoners the Islamist movement has been demanding, the Egyptian source said.
In the meantime, Israel would receive proof Shalit was alive and details about his condition.
“This is a humanitarian gesture,” said the source, who has been close to Egypt’s mediation efforts that have been going on between Gaza’s rulers and Israel for many months.
“Israel will release 20 female Palestinian prisoners in exchange for proof of life and of the condition of Gilad Shalit,” the source added. “This is a result of the efforts of the Egyptian and German mediators.”
A statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office confirmed Israel had decided to free the women, calling it a confidence-building gesture before critical stages in negotiations for Shalit’s release.
“According to the proposal by mediators, Israel will receive updated and unequivocal proof of Gilad Shalit’s condition,” the statement said, without giving a date for the women’s release.
Hamas officials had no immediate comment, but planned to hold a news conference in Gaza.
Shalit, a young conscript who was a corporal at the time, was seized by fighters from Hamas and allied groups during a raid on an Israeli border base in 2006.
He has not been visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Israel holds more than 10,000 Palestinians in its jails. Hamas is negotiating for the release of hundreds of its members.
Gaza and Jerusalem newsrooms