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Page last updated at 11:32 GMT, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 12:32 UK

Israel to free 20 for Shalit film

Gilad Shalit in Israeli army uniform before his capture
Shalit has not been seen since his capture in 2006 in a cross-border raid

Israel has said it will release 20 Palestinian women from detention in return for proof that captured soldier Gilad Shalit is still alive.

A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said it was waiting to receive video taken recently by his militant captors in Gaza.

Israel holds about 10,000 Palestinians, including dozens of women.

Gilad Shalit has not been seen since his capture by Hamas militants in a raid on an Israeli border base in 2006.

The Israeli statement said the deal had been proposed by international mediators as a "confidence-building measure".

Sources close to the negotiations said the exchange was scheduled to take place on Friday, after a list of the women had been circulated to allow any legal objections to be lodged.

Mediation 'success'

The Hamas group is demanding the release hundreds of prisoners, many serving lengthy sentences for carrying out militant attacks, in exchange for the soldier.

It is important that the entire world know that Gilad Shalit is alive and well and that Hamas is responsible for his health and state
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu

A spokesman for the Hamas armed wing told a news conference in Gaza that 19 of the women to be released were from the West Bank and the 20th, from Gaza, would be released along with a child she had had in prison.

"This is a success for the Egyptian and German mediators," said the spokesman, known as Abu Ubeida.

He said four of the women were members of Hamas, while five were from the rival Fatah movement, three were members of Islamic Jihad and the others were from other Palestinian groups.

Mr Shalit's captors have released three letters from him and an audio message in the last three years, but he has been denied access to international humanitarian officials despite repeated requests.

The last letter was dated 2008 and the audio tape was released in June 2007.

A senior Israeli source told the BBC: "The negotiations are expected to be long and difficult. We will continue to take firm steps to bring Gilad home safe and sound as soon as possible."

Mr Netanyahu was quoted by his office as saying: "It is important that the entire world know that Gilad Shalit is alive and well and that Hamas is responsible for his health and state."

The BBC's Katya Adler in Jerusalem says this is the latest in a series of on-again, off-again negotiations.

The case of Gilad Shalit, 23, constantly makes headline news in Israel where the public is hungry for any information about him.



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