Israeli occupation authorities on Sunday released the final Palestinian female prisoner as part of a swap with Hamas for a short video of its soldier captured in Gaza.
Roudah Habib was released into Gaza via the Erez crossing, where she was greeted by relatives and friends before being escorted to the office of Ismail Haniya, the prime minister in Gaza.
The release of 19 Palestinian women prisoners in exchange for a brief video clip of a captured Israeli soldier has handed a much-need victory to the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas, analysts said on Sunday.
In the three years since Hamas captured Gilad Shalit the group has endured two massive military offensives, long periods of near-daily Israeli raids and a crippling economic blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt.
But now Hamas can boast that for the first time since taking power of Gaza in June 2007 it has compelled Israel to release prisoners — not as a gesture to encourage peace talks, but as the hard-won fruit of armed struggle.
"In the minds of Palestinians this is a great achievement and a victory for the will of the resistance," said Naji Sharrab, a professor at Gaza's Al-Azhar University. "There is no doubt that this is going to help Hamas internally."
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had released batches of hundreds of prisoners as a gesture to the Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and his Fatah party during US-led Middle East talks.
But analysts said the latest deal made by right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — which saw the release of just 19 out of an estimated 7,200 Palestinian prisoners — was far more significant.
"Palestinians knew that Israel was trying to improve the image of the Palestinian Authority and that's why (Olmert's government) released the prisoners," said Mukhaimer Abu Saada, another professor at Al-Azhar.
"With the Hamas deal they knew that Israel was not trying to improve Hamas's image but was doing so because of pressure."
Many experts expect the exchange will pave the way for a larger final deal involving the exchange of Shalit for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners whose release Hamas has demanded in more than three years of Egyptian-mediated talks.
"This was very important for Hamas as a first step, and it will be a major victory when the process is completed," said Samir Awad, professor of international relations at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank.
"During this entire period Israel tried to free the soldier by every means except negotiations, by violence. Now Israel has exhausted all other options and negotiations are the only way left."
Experts also attributed the breakthrough to the entry of German mediators over the summer and a public call from France for the release of Shalit, who holds French nationality.
"This was also a message from Hamas to Europe. They hope to secure greater recognition in this way," Sharrab said.