Israel has agreed to release former Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti in the framework of a future prisoner exchange deal for the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat reported Tuesday morning.
Al-Hayat quoted a senior Hamas official as saying that the Islamist group's political bureau chief, Khaled Mashaal, or his deputy Musa Abu Marzouk, will visit Cairo following US President George W. Bush's upcoming visit to the region to discuss a prisoner swap with Israel as well as a number of other issues.
The official said that Ofer Dekel, Israel's chief negotiator for the release of the three abducted soldiers, accompanied Defense Minister Ehud Barak on his recent trip to Sharm el-Sheikh, where he met with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.
According to the report, Dekel informed Suleiman of Israel's willingness to strike a deal "as soon as possible" and called on Cairo to exert its influence in order to advance an agreement.
The issue was also raised during Barak's meeting with President Hosni Mubarak, the official said. "Israel has become more flexible, and it has expressed a willingness to acknowledge Egypt's mediation efforts," he was quoted as saying.
'Palestinian heroes to remain imprisoned'
The Hamas official said that according to the agreement currently being formulated, Israel will initially transfer 100 prisoners to Nuweiba, located in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, while Hamas will simultaneously release Shalit to Egyptian custody. After an additional 150 Palestinian prisoners are freed by Israel, Egyptian authorities will transfer Shalit to Israel.
The official said Egypt suggested including Barghouti in the deal.
When asked by Al-Hayat about the prisoners Israel has refused to release, the official said, "There are Palestinian heroes that Israel considers as having blood on their hands, such as the young woman (Amana Muna) who seduced the Israeli teen on the internet, lured him into Ramallah and murdered him.
The official also included in this group Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar, who is serving multiple life terms for the killing of three members of the Haran family and that of policeman Eliyahu Shahar in a raid on the northern Israeli city of Nahariya in 1979.
Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said last Saturday that Barghouti was "likely to be on the list" of Palestinian security prisoners freed by Israel as part of a deal to release Shalit.
Vilnai made the statement in an interview to Israel Radio, and sources in his office stressed that this was his personal opinion, and that it did not represent the government's stance on the issue.