There has been “a breakthrough” in talks on freeing an Israeli soldier held captive by Palestinian militants in Gaza, the armed wing of the governing Hamas Islamist group said on Sunday without giving details.
Spokesman Abu Ubaida said Izz el-Din al-Qassam and two other factions holding Corporal Gilad Shalit for more than six months were not yet ready to free him, but a deal could be close after what he described as a change in the Israeli position.
“There is a breakthrough in this file and we hope it will be concluded very soon,” Abu Ubaida said.
One of the groups, the Popular Resistance Committees, said that Shalit might be handed to Egypt after Israel freed a first group of prisoners. The Egyptians would keep him until Israel then released another batch.
Complex process for Israel
“The swap depends on whether there is an Israeli intention to make it happen. If there is such an intention, it could happen very soon,” said PRC spokesman Abu Mujahed.
He did not say how many prisoners might be freed under a deal.
Mujahed said that Shalit was in good health and being treated according to “Islamic values.”
Sources in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said they have no knowledge of any breakthrough in the Shalit affair; however, the joint Israeli-Palestinian committee on the prisoners issue, the establishment of which was agreed upon during Olmert’s meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas eight days ago, is expected to convene in the coming days.
The committee is expected to discuss the release of Palestinian prisoners to Abbas as a first phase towards talks that would eventually lead the Shalit’s release.
It is a complex process for Israel, as the prime minister vowed not to hold talks with Hamas over the issue.
Therefore it is an Egyptian proposal which will overcome the difficulties.
Under the proposal, Israel will first release old prisoners, women and children and thereafter other prisoners as demanded by the Palestinians.
The process requires approvals from four officials at least – Olmert, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and Khaled Mashaal.
In addition the process will be coordinated with President Hosni Mubarak and his intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.