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Why Israelis believe one soldier is worth 1,000 Palestinian prisoners|
(CNN) -- Israel plans to free more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including hundreds serving life sentences for attacks on Israelis, in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who was captured by Hamas in 2006. How and why has the controversial deal come about?
Why is Shalit considered important enough by the Israelis to be exchanged for so many Palestinian prisoners?
Militants captured the young sergeant in June 2006 after tunneling into the Jewish state and attacking an Israeli army outpost. Israel immediately launched a military incursion into Gaza to rescue Shalit, then 19, but failed to free him.
As the Israeli attacks continued, the Palestinians death toll steadily grew -- hundreds killed, many militants, but also, according to Palestinian sources, innocent men women and children.
Shalit's captors, affiliated with the Islamic Hamas government, demanded a prisoner swap, but the Israeli government said no -- at least in public.
Since then, he has been held incommunicado by Hamas, which controls Gaza.
Efforts to free him have become a rallying cry for thousands of Israelis who have urged the government to secure his release. Shalit's supporters feared that if a deal was not reached soon, his fate could be similar to that of Israeli Air Force Navigator Ron Arad, who crashed his warplane in Lebanon 25 years ago. He was captured by a local Shiite Amal militia and later handed over to Hezbollah, Shiite militants strongly influenced by Iran and now in de facto control of Lebanon.