GAZA CITY // Hamas' leader in the Gaza Strip says the militant group has turned over a captive Israeli soldier to Egypt as part of a prisoner swap with Israel.
In a text message, Mahmoud Zahar said today that his group is no longer holding Sgt Gilad Schalit. Earlier, militants had whisked the 25-year-old soldier across Gaza's border to Egypt, which has acted as a mediator in the deal.
Israel is freeing more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Mr Schalit, who was captured by Gaza militants in June 2006.
Throngs of excited Palestinians gathered in the West Bank and Gaza from early Tuesday, preparing to greet prisoners released under a landmark exchange deal.
A group of 477 Palestinian prisoners, some held in Israeli jails for decades, were to be freed today.
At the Ofer prison near Ramallah, thousands of men and women gathered in the early hours of the morning, braving the cold air, many of the men pulling on cigarettes and pacing to keep warm.
Some in the crowds waved green flags of the Hamas movement, which inked the landmark exchange deal with Israel, as well as the yellow flags of the Fatah party of Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, - and the Palestinian flag.
* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse