A Palestinian newspaper reported Wednesday that the prisoner exchange deal meant to secure the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit may be finalized as early as the end of August.
The report has not been confirmed by any other source.
According to the report, the three-stage deal will begin with an Israeli medical team leaving for the Egyptian city of al-Arish in order to meet Shalit and perform necessary medical tests prior to transferring him to Cairo.
The newspaper quoted several Arab and European sources as saying that a high-ranking Egyptian delegation will arrive in Israel "within hours," while both Israel and Hamas finish drafting the deal.
Two top Hamas officials have already arrived in Cairo to sign the deal, said the report, and their Israeli counterparts are to deliver the agreement to Jerusalem, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defense officials will debate it prior to presenting it to the government for final approval.
The paper further quoted its sources as saying the prisoner exchange deal is part of a larger agreement, which includes lifting the Israeli blockade on Gaza Strip, opening all Gaza crossings and maintaining the ceasefire along the Israel-Gaza border.
The paper noted that many of the prisoners slated for release have been sentenced to lengthy prison times in Israel. Two names which are sure to find their way onto the list are former Fatah Secretary-General in the West Bank Marwan Barghouti and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Secretary-General Ahmed Saadat.
The Palestinian newspaper also said that the preparation for the deal were in full gear in Jerusalem, Gaza and Cairo, following the "major breakthrough" achieved in the negotiations between Egypt and Hamas over the last few hours; and that the Gaza Security Forces are readying for the deal as well.
According to the report, Israel and Hamas have both agreed to refrain from tipping off the media regarding the imminent deal.
Lines of communication between Damascus and Gaza on one hand, and Cairo – with Israeli officials standing by – on the other, "Are being kept open" in order to finalize the deal. Netanyahu and Hamas leaders in the Strip, added the report, have begun the necessary proceedings in order to have the agreement approved by their respective sides.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry official Mohammed Abdel al-Mahjoub (R) (Photo: Yaron Brener)
Sides eager to see deal completed
Sources defined by the paper as "familiar with the negotiations" said that Israel is expected to complete the technical arrangements necessary for a mass prisoner release, and that the Israeli Prison Service has began rounding up the prisoners named in the exchange.
Meanwhile, Hamas security forces in Gaza were readying as well – according to the report – with Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades gearing for their part in the prisoner exchange.
Both sides are reportedly eager to finalize the deal, and the Egyptian-brokered talks are said to be in full swing.
The paper goes on to quote an Israeli diplomatic source as saying that Netanyahu should have no problem securing his government's consent to the deal for two reasons: The defense establishment's conclusion that it is necessary and the Israeli public's support of it.
Hamas Minister of Prisoner Affairs Mohammed Faraj al-Ghoul, in a reported conversation with a Palestinian prisoner, said that "The occupation will soon be humbled and give in to the terms posed by the groups holding Shalit and will release the names included on the list – all those sentenced to prolonged jail time, the women and the minors. Without that there can be no agreement."
The Palestinian Ma'an News Agency reported Wednesday that al-Ghoul aimed to reassure the prisoners held in Israel, saying their release is nearing and that Hamas government and the Palestinian factions are sparing no effort on their behalf.
Hamas and PRC sources, however, denied reports of any progress on the Shalit deal, saying that while the negotiations were ongoing, the Palestinian groups were holding their ground and that Israel would have to consent to the original prisoner lists submitted by Hamas for the deal to mature.
Nevertheless, sources in Gaza and Egypt told Ynet that if Israel's position would change Hamas would be willing to discuss some of the names deemed by Israel as problematic, but "the problem is that for now, is does not seem that the deal is a priority of Israel's."