A deal between Israel and Hamas for the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit will apparently be finalized during Defense Minister Ehud Barak's scheduled visit to Egypt this week, western sources were quoted as saying by UK-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi on Monday.
According to the sources, in exchange for Shalit Israel would be willing to release 500 Palestinian prisoners, most of whom were apprehended prior to the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000.
As part of the deal, the sources told the newspaper, Israel would also release members of the Palestinian Legislative Council who were detained in the aftermath of the IDF soldier's abduction by Gaza terrorists in a cross-border raid on June 25, 2006.
Mussa Abu Marzuk, Hamas' deputy political secretary, confirmed that talks over a possible prisoner exchange agreement with Israel have resumed, adding that Israel was relying on mediators in the negotiation process.
'Problem convincing Islamic Jihad'
An unconfirmed report published by Palestinian news agency Maan quoted a senior Palestinian official as saying that Shalit would be released soon in the framework of an agreement with the Islamic group.
Meanwhile, Al-Hayat, another London-based Arabic newspaper, said Israel and Hamas are seeking the mediation of a third party to advance a ceasefire agreement in Gaza. According to Hamas officials, the organization has already launched talks with the various Palestinian groups regarding a possible truce with the Jewish state.
"Hamas has no problem regarding a lull (in the fighting) in Gaza," one Islamist group member was quoted as saying. "The main problem is how Hamas can convince Islamic Jihad to accept it, especially since it has refused to discuss a truce as long as Israeli aggression persists."
An Islamic Jihad member told Al-Hayat that the talks have failed "because the lull is directly linked to the cessation of Israel's aggression not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank."
Meanwhile, Israeli officials familiar with the efforts to release Shalit said there was no breakthrough in negotiations as of yet.