Captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit will be home by next Wednesday after the Israeli government secured a deal with Hamas militants for his release.
Shalit will return to Israel through Egypt next week at the same time that Israel releases the first group of Palestinians in return, AFP reported. Under the deal, Shalit is being traded for a total of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, many serving sentences for deadly attacks against Israel.
Shalit was captured by militants in a cross-border raid and dragged into Gaza in June 2006. Little has been known about his fate since, and past deals to free him stalled.
Israel has been criticized for the sheer number of prisoners it agreed to exchange for Shalit, including from family members of those killed in terror attacks.
"I have been fighting this deal for five years, and I staunchly oppose the release of terrorists, murderers and convicts," Yossi Mendelevitch, whose 13-year-old son was killed in a bus bombing in 2003, told Israeli news site YNet News. "In fact, Israel is surrendering to a terror organization by freeing killers."
Ron Kerman, whose 17-year-old daughter was killed in the same terror attack, said he thinks the prisoner deal is dangerous for Israel.
"While I am happy for the Shalit family, I fear for the lives of the citizens of Israel," Kerman said. "I don't buy the politicians' promises…I am afraid that more people will join my situation as result of the Shalit deal, not to mention the…morale boost that Israel's government, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, has given terror organizations."
Despite receiving more than 1,000 prisoners in return, Hamas officials are said to be dismayed that some top operatives were left out of the deal.
Palestinian sources told the newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that Hamas officials were shocked that senior operatives in the organization's military wing, including Hassan Salama, Abdullah Barghouti, Abbas a-Sayed and Ibrahim Hamed will not be among the released. The sources said that several senior operatives have cancelled their speeches on the matter, and a joint press conference that was supposed to be held by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committee on Wednesday was called off.
Palestinian Authority Minister of Prisons Issa Kraka, who initially welcomed the deal, said he was disappointed that the top security prisoners were not to be freed.
"The negotiations on the deal had to focus more on the political, symbolic and national significance held by the senior leaders, including Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Saadat," he said.
Additionally, Palestinian officials loyal to Hamas rival Fatah criticized Hamas for conceding too much in the swap, according to the Associated Press.
"The deal was a blow to our hopes," said Issa Karake, a Palestinian official in the Fatah-controlled West Bank responsible for prisoners. "The Palestinian people paid a heavy price...for Shalit's captivity. They should have insisted."