Ofer Dekel and Yuval Diskin, Israel's emissaries to the talks on Gilad Shalit's release, left Cairo Monday evening and are back in Israel.
The two rushed to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Tel Aviv office upon their return in order to brief him on the Shalit negotiations. A decision on whether to convene a government session Tuesday morning will be taken following the briefing.
The PM met with his close advisors at his Tel Aviv office Monday evening. For the time being, he has postponed a planned tour of northern Israel Tuesday and cleared his entire schedule for the possibility of lengthy discussions regarding the Shalit deal.
Shalit's mother, brother waiting for news (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Meanwhile, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who is currently in Washington, has decided to cut his visit short and return to Israel. The army chief expressed his apologies to participants of the annual "Friends of the IDF" gala dinner in New York City Tuesday night, at which he was due to speak as the guest of honor.
However, a senior military official said this was no indication of optimism or pessimism in respect to the talks in Cairo. Ashkenazi is expected to take part in the government session on the Shalit deal Tuesday, should such session be convened.
Arab sources familiar with the Cairo negotiation told Ynet that the Israeli team that returned from Egypt Monday night had Hamas' final answer on the matter. The number of prisoners to be released still under dispute is about 50, the sources said.
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According to the sources, Hamas has reached "a point of no return" and a prisoner exchange deal will be signed prior to the induction of Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu's government.
Hamas source: Israel will yield
Israel is showing greater flexibility as negotiations on the Shalit prisoner swap in Cairo progress, a Hamas source told Ynet Monday, adding that the next hours could be critical.
"The Israelis realize we do not intend to remove even one name from our lists, and the updated Israeli lists are starting to resemble the lists we presented two years ago," the source said. "I estimate that the Israelis will keep on yielding to our lists, but I can't say when exactly we'll be able to finalize a deal."
According to the source, a prisoner swap will be finalized once Israel will agree to release 450 prisoners, and after the question of expulsion is clarified and accepted by the prisoners slated to be expelled to Gaza or overseas.
"We will not press any of our people, whether they are Hamas members or not, to leave the territories against their will," the source said. "Only if our brothers in prison agree to accept this formula, and not under pressure, we'll have a breakthrough." Sources familiar with the negotiations said that some prisoners have been informed of the possibility that they will be expelled.
Meanwhile, well placed sources said that despite the significant progress made so far in the talks, and although the deal may be finalized within hours, negotiations may also end up extending for many days to come.
Earlier Monday, London-based newspaper al-Hayat reported that the commander of Hamas' military wing, Ahmed Jabari, arrived in Cairo three days ago in order to head the organization's negotiation team in talks over Gilad Shalit's release.
Ron Ben-Yishai and Ali Waked contributed to the report