After officials in Jerusalem confirmed that progress had in fact been made in negotiations towards kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit's release, Hamas officials noted that a prisoner swap deal had "advanced considerably".
Early Saturday, Palestinian Information Minister Dr. Mustafa Barghouti said that Egyptian mediators had transferred a list of names of the Palestinians prisoners whose release was demanded as part of a prisoner swap deal.
Saturday night, a source close to the kidnappers said they demanded that Israel release first the most senior prisoners on the list. "We want to make sure that the 'serious' prisoners will be released in the first group and not in the last group (of the phased exchange plan), as Israel demands," the source told Ynet.
This demand was not yet extended formally: Saturday evening, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's spokesperson spoke optimistically about the transfer of the list of prisoners, saying it would "provide momentum" for the exchange deal.
Speaking with the French news agency, Hamas spokesperson Ghazi Hamad said, "We are waiting for Israel's response on the list on names. If Israel cooperates seriously, I believe the deal could be carried out very soon."
A source associated with the Palestinian government told the news agency that the new list given to Israel includes 450 names. He refused to elaborate on whether names high ranking Palestinian leaders such as Marwan Barghouti were also on the list.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with the Egyptian security delegation to the Gaza Strip on Saturday evening. The parties discussed the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit and the recent escalation of confrontations in the strip.
Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti said at a press conference Saturday evening after a Palestinian cabinet meeting that practical steps towards Shalit's release have begun.
Barghouti said that Egyptian mediators had handed Israel a list of names of Palestinian prisoners Shalit's captors demanded as part of a swap, paving the way for the soldier's "swift release". Cpl. Shalit was abducted in a cross-border raid near the Gaza Strip on June 25 by gunmen from three Palestinian groups, including Hamas' armed wing.
"The ball is now on the Israeli side, which can now speed up the release of Shalit and the release of some of the ... Palestinian prisoners who are in Israeli jails," he told a news conference.
AFP contributed to the report