Red Cross discusses prisoner swap with Israel, Hamas

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has offered to facilitate the exchange of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for Palestinian prisoners and is discussing this with Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, an ICRC spokesman said on Thursday.

“We are talking to both sides about our offer. We have offered our services as a neutral intermediary to both sides,” ICRC spokesman Marcal Izard told Reuters in response to a query.

“The ICRC will act as a neutral intermediary if both parties agree to request the organization’s humanitarian services in order to facilitate the transfer of released detainees,” he said.

Israel and Hamas have agreed an Egyptian- and German-brokered deal to swap more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Shalit, a 25-year-old held captive in Gaza since June 2006.

The swap is expected to take place sometime next week on Egyptian territory at locations somewhere in the Sinai Desert, as yet undisclosed.

Shalit’s parents, Noam and Aviva, have met senior officials at the ICRC headquarters in Geneva over the years.

In June, on the 5th anniversary of his capture by Palestinian militants who tunneled into Israel, the ICRC issued an unusual public appeal calling on Hamas to provide proof that he was still alive and to allow contact with his family, as required under international humanitarian law.

“The ICRC welcomes that the ordeal of the family of Gilad Shalit will end and Gilad Shalit will soon see his family again,” Izard said. “The ICRC also welcomes the reunion of the released Palestinian detainees with their families.”

The independent humanitarian agency has helped with previous prisoner exchanges between Hamas Islamists and Israel, transporting detainees to crossing points after privately interviewing them to ensure that they want to return.

In 2009, the ICRC facilitated the return to Gaza and the West Bank of 20 Palestinian women released from Israeli custody.

“We don’t know yet if we will play this role in this particular operation,” Izard said.

“The most important point is private interviews held with detainees to make sure they are sent to a place in accordance with their free will,” he added.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alistair Lyon