The Israeli government early Wednesday formally approved a deal with Hamas to secure the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for over 1,000 Palestinian detainees, officials said.
The agreement was backed by 26 ministers after a five-hour meeting while three nationalist Cabinet heavyweights -- Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon -- voted against.
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Israel's top officials in charge of security including Defence Minister Ehud Barak, chief of staff Benny Gantz and Shin Beth and Mossad (internal and external security forces) bosses Yoram Cohen and Tamir Pardo all backed the deal with the Islamist Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Tuesday that under the accord 25-year-old soldier Gilad Shalit, who also has French nationality, "will be coming home in the next few days," after being held by Hamas's armed wing in the Gaza Strip since June 2006.
"We have concluded arduous negotiations with Hamas to release Gilad Shalit. I believe we reached the best possible agreement at this time," Netanyahu added.
"It is very possible that this window of opportunity that has been created at this time... would have closed once and for all, and we wouldn't have been able to bring Gilad back at all."