German mediator Ernst Uhrlau has arrived in Tel Aviv with Hamas' response to Israel's latest offer for a deal that would see captive soldier Gilad Shalit released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, Al Jazeera reported Sunday.
A Palestinian source familiar with the prisoner exchange negotiations told the Arab news network's reporter in Gaza that the next 48 hours will be critical in determining whether a deal can be finalized imminently.
According to the source, after presenting Hamas' response, the German mediator will return to Gaza to relay Israel's response. The Palestinian called the negotiations "grueling," and claimed that Israel's latest offer indicates a change in its position vis-à-vis a prisoner exchange.
However, sources in Jerusalem said a prisoner exchange deal was still a long way off, adding that the schedules of the country's senior officials do not indicate any unusual developments.
"The Shalit issue demands patience and daily action," one of the sources said. "We are waiting. Unfortunately, a deal has not been finalized and it remains unclear if and when it will.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit said his country would urge Israel to be flexible in talks for Shalit's release.
In an interview with Al-Arabiya Saturday night, Aboul-Gheit said, "We are trying to influence Israel's position, and to stress that Israel should not go overboard in its demands and that it must pay the required price."
Earlier Sunday it was reported that a French medical crew, comprised of four doctors, entered the Gaza Strip last week and examined Shalit.
According to the BBC network in Arabic and the London-based Arabic-language al-Hayat newspaper, the crew entered Gaza last Sunday with German mediator Uhrlau.
The doctors, the reports said, arrived in Cairo and travelled to Gaza through the Rafah crossing. The four physicians, who specialize in different fields, examined the captive in his abductors' hiding place.
Al-Hayat reported that Uhrlau had threatened to quit his role as mediator due to Israel's insistence on its stance. Sources defined as reliable told the paper that he had made the threat in the latest round of talks due, feeling that Israel's persistence would cause the deal to fail.
The same sources defined the talks as "very complicated," saying that "the obstacles the deal is facing amount to Israel's refusal to release 44 prisoners who are east Jerusalem residents, 20 Israeli Arabs and one prisoner from the Golan Heights, who all began their prison terms before the Oslo Accords were signed, in addition to its insistence on deporting about 125 prisoners from the Gaza Strip abroad."
Roni Sofer contributed to the report