Israel will not agree to open crossings into Gaza without the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, the Prime Minister's Office reported Saturday. Meanwhile, a Hamas official reported that talks had hit a snag because Israel was pressing for a longer-term ceasefire.
Osama Hamdan, a Hamas representative in Lebanon, told Al Jazeera television that Israel's raising of the Shalit issue was "a programmed operation to make the deal fail".
Hamdan said "we consider that this kind of Israeli procrastination is for the aim of achieving more objectives and wasting more time and effort. But our position is still as it was, and what was agreed has to be implemented fully. Otherwise Israel will bear the consequences of any failure," Hamdan said.
Hamas official Taher al-Nono told Reuters from Cairo that
efforts were under way to try and overcome what he called "Israeli obstacles" that were delaying the announcement of an agreement.
A Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, said the Egyptian-mediated talks were stalled by disagreement on the duration of the ceasefire. "Once this obstacle is overcome an announcement would be made," Barhoum said.
Olmert's statement is consistent with reports from London-based, Arab-language daily al-Hayat, according to which Egyptian sources said that a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas would include the issue of Shalit and that the soldier's release would take place in stages, with the opening of the crossing contingent upon Shalit's transfer into Israel.
"We will not open the crossings without Shalit's release. Anything other statements are irrelevant. This is Israel's clear stance to Egypt," Ehud Olmert's office said.
"Israel has a clear stance. They will open the crossings completely only after Shalit is released," the Egyptian sources said.
"Either way, the crossings will not be open without Shalit's release. This is a commitment that the prime minister has made and he intends to act accordingly," read the statement from Olmert's office.
Egyptian sources added to information published in al-Hayat Saturday, explaining that in the first phase of a prison transfer, Israel would release some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including underage and female prisoners and Palestinian parliament members.
Senior officials in Jerusalem expressed anger at recent media reports claiming that negotiations on the soldier's release are close to complete.
According to these officials, Egypt has not alerted Israel to any change or agreement in the negotiations it is mediating between the Jewish state and Hamas. Additionally, based on recent reports from Cairo, the Egyptians themselves are not pleased with obstacles Hamas is introducing to the negotiation process.