Israel is exploring the option of releasing Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouti to bolster President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction ahead of any prisoner swap with Hamas, Israeli television said on Sunday.
Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is trying to negotiate a last-minute deal with Hamas under which Israel would release 1,000 or more Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
To help Fatah, one idea under discussion was the possibility of releasing Barghouti ahead of the prisoner swap with Hamas, according to Israel's Channel 10 television. An Israeli source told Reuters this option was under consideration but that no decisions have been taken.
"There will not be a Shalit deal without the release of Marwan Barghouti," Barghouti's lawyer, Hader Shkirat, told Israel's Channel 10 television.
"The deal is closer than ever. We think and hope it will be very, very soon, perhaps in a few days."
Barghouti is seen as a possible successor to Abbas, whose secular Fatah faction lost to Hamas in a 2006 election and was routed from the Gaza Strip in a June 2007 civil war between the Palestinian rivals. Barghouti was sentenced to five life terms by an Israeli court.