Egyptian mediators have presented Hamas and other groups with a new proposal aimed at ending a six-week-old standoff over an Israeli soldier seized near the Gaza strip, Hamas officials said on Tuesday.
A source close to the negotiations said the proposal called for Hamas to transfer Corporal Gilad Shalit to Egyptian authorities in return for Israel's release of up to 600 Palestinian prisoners, including women and minors. Another group of Palestinian prisoners, including many who have served longer sentences, would be freed by Israel at a later date.
The Israeli government has so far rejected any prisoner swap for Shalit, who was captured by gunmen from Hamas and other groups in a cross-border raid on June 25. Israel responded by launching an air and ground offensive that has killed more than 165 Palestinians in Gaza, more than half of them civilians.
"A new offer was made to the Hamas movement by the Egyptian security delegation in Gaza," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters, declining to discuss the proposal's contents. He said that the groups would not back down from demands that Palestinian prisoners be released in exchange for Shalit.
"Hamas is still committed to its demand that there must be reciprocity in time and action," Abu Zuhri said. He also stressed the group was insistent that those freed fall under the categories of prisoners specified by the three factions holding Shalit.
Hopes for end of sanctions on PA
The Palestinian authority hopes that the end of the conflict in Lebanon will lead to an end of sanctions on the PA. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met in Gaza on Tuesday with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas to discuss the political situation in the region, pursuant to the clashes in southern Lebanon and to the internal changes within the authority itself, which include the possible formation of a unity government.
Both sides expressed hope for a conclusion to the internal crisis in the PA, which has revolved around the issue of Gilad Shalit. Haniyeh said last week that he hoped a deal over Shalit could be reached soon, though he offered no details. A senior Palestinian official said Qatar had recently stepped in to help mediate between Israel and Hamas, stating that "Israel has made new offers to Hamas via the Qataris in return for Shalit."
Political change in the area?
Sources in the PA believe that the conclusion of the war in the Lebanon, as well as the willingness demonstrated by Palestinian factions to discuss a potential cessation of rocket fire and a focus of anti-Israel operations only against soldiers and settlers in the West Bank, could bring about political change in the area.
During a meeting this week between EU foreign minister Javier Solana and Abbas, Solana said that it was clear that key to the conflict in the Middle East was the Palestinian issue.
Sources close to Abbas told Ynet that Solana enumerated several EU proposals aimed at encouraging the Palestinians to facilitate an end to the Shalit crisis in order to bring about subsequent discussions in the international community involving a revocation of sanctions against the Palestinian Authority.