Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit has been moved from the Gaza Strip to Egypt, Palestinian officials in Gaza said. The move begins an elaborate prisoner swap deal in which hundreds of Palestinian inmates are to be freed in return for the captured tank crewman. The officials said buses of Palestinian prisoners are now moving from Israel into Egypt en route to Gaza. Israel's Army Radio station, citing anonymous Israeli officials, confirmed the report. In all, Israel is slated to release 1,027 prisoners for Schalit, now 25, who had been held in Gaza since he was captured more than five years ago by Palestinian militants in a cross-border raid. Before dawn, convoys of white vans and trucks transported hundreds of Palestinian prisoners to the locations in the West Bank and on the Israel-Egypt border where they were to be freed. In Gaza, the Red Cross confirmed that the prisoners slated for release had arrived at the nearby border crossing. The exchange, negotiated through Egyptian mediators because Israel and Hamas will not talk directly to each other, is going ahead despite criticism and court appeals in Israel against the release of the prisoners. Nearly 300 of them were serving lengthy sentences for involvement in deadly attacks. The exchange involves a delicate series of staged releases, each one triggering the next. The Red Cross and Egyptian officials are involved in facilitating the movement of prisoners. A Gaza militant leader said the Palestinians were waiting until all 477 prisoners were moved into Palestinian territory before turning Schalit over to the Egyptians. In the meantime, he said armed men would remain with him in Egypt. When Tuesday's exchange is complete, 477 Palestinians held in Israeli jails, including 27 women, will have been released, several of them after decades behind bars. The other 550 are set to be released in two months. Schalit will be brought to an Israeli military base along the Egypt border, where he will be issued a new military uniform and given another medical examination, according to the Israeli military. Schalit will then be flown by helicopter to an air force base in central Israel, where he will meet his parents, as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the defence minister and military chief of staff.
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