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Israel, Hamas agree to swap of prisoners

JERUSALEM -- Israel and Hamas have reached a deal to free an Israeli soldier held in the Gaza Strip in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, both sides said yesterday.

The deal, brokered by the new Egyptian government, would bring home Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who was captured in a raid in June 2006 by Palestinian militants who burrowed into Israel and dragged him into Gaza. Little had been known about his fate.

Hamas has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel, killing hundreds, and Israel blockaded Gaza after Hamas seized power there in 2007, carrying out a large-scale invasion in 2009 to try to stop daily rocket attacks on Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an urgent meeting of the Israeli cabinet last night to approve the deal.

"Gilad will return to Israel in the coming days," he declared in a nationally televised address. Effusively thanking Egyptian mediators, he said the deal was signed earlier in the day after being initialed last Thursday. -- AP

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