After slightly closing the gap between Israel's and Hamas' positions in the effort to strike a prisoner swap deal that would secure the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, the sides have again grown apart due to internal disputes within Hamas, according to a security briefing convened Thursday by Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu.
Taking part in the briefing were the prime minister's emissary to Shalit talks Hagai Hadas and other senior defense officials. According to figures presented in the meeting, serious dissent within Hamas ranks is stymieing progress in the negotiations despite continued efforts being made by the German mediator to strike a deal.
Prime Minister Netanyahu still refuses to release terrorists to the West Bank, instead demanding that they be banished to the Gaza Strip or outside Palestinian territory.
"If we comply with Hamas' demand, the knife of kidnappings will not dull, but will sharpen and will lead to more kidnappings," warned one senior official in Jerusalem following the hearing held at Tel Aviv's Kirya base.
Israel, in the meantime, has not changed its position since notifying German mediator Gerhard Conrad in December that it agrees to release 450 prisoners from Hamas' list, but not to the West Bank. Netanyahu believes the ball is in Hamas' court.
The Shalit family, current staying in a protest tent outside the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, is slated to meet soon with Netanyahu, who said he would consider a visit to the tent.
At the start of the month, Gilad's father, Noam Shalit held a press conference in east Jerusalem in which he addressed the Palestinian people, asking them to use the opportunity of Ramadan to put pressure on Hamas leadership to agree to a prisoner swap deal.
"Concession in this case is not a sign of weakness, but of strength because only the strong are capable of conceding," said Noam Shalit. "The path of compromise is the best of all paths. The loss of time does not benefit our families."
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