Progress on Shalit deal? A delegation of senior Hamas members, headed by politburo chief Khaled Mashaal, arrived in Cairo Tuesday – following reports by the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper that the third round of negotiations between Israel and Hamas over a prisoner exchange deal is expected to begin in the Egyptian capital.
Sources in Jerusalem have confirmed that talks have been renewed. The Israeli team is headed by David Meidan, who was appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to handle the release of captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop
The Hamas delegation has most likely arrived in Cairo not only to discuss the Shalit deal but also to address the Palestinian Authority's upcoming United Nations' bid, the Palestinian reconciliation and Hamas' attempt to get closer to Egypt.
Back in April, Hamas sources announced they plan on relocating their headquarters to the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar, or to Egypt, due to the Syrian upheaval.
In this case, Egypt has the upper hand, enabling them to pressure Hamas to display more flexibility regarding a swap deal, and in return maybe permitting the group to establish their command center in Cairo.
Aside from Mashaal, the Hamas delegation to Cairo included Deputy Politburo Chief Mousa Abu Marzouk, Sami Khater, Nizar Awadallah and Mohammed Nasser.
Palestinian sources told the newspaper that Israel has become more flexible on the issue of releasing Israeli-Arab detainees, and those from east Jerusalem. According to reports, Israel refused to discuss these prisoners until recently.
Moreover, a Palestinian source claimed that Israel agreed to make other concessions on the issue of expelling the prisoners from Israel, saying that "it was agreed to reduce the number of prisoners who will be deported after their release."
However, senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told the newspaper recently that Netanyahu is not interested in paying the price necessary to close the deal. He stressed that the deal will not be carried out if Israel does not fulfill all of Hamas' demands, claiming that these demands are reasonable.
The Hamas official added that Israel has returned to the negotiations' table for two main reasons: Internal pressure calling for the release of Shalit, and the fact that Israel was surprised that Hamas has not changed its stance once since taking Shalit captive.
Second round of talks?
Hamdan remarked that the swap deal would have already been complete in the first round of negotiations if it had only been up to the Hamas.
"Shalit was kidnapped in a just battle, while he was on a military mission, not like most of the Palestinian prisoners, who were kidnapped from their homes," he said.
According to Hamdan, Hamas is demanding 1,000 prisoners to be released.
Hamdan said that Israel offered Hamas to release the detainees in two phases; 450 prisoners would be released first and 550 will be released at a later date. But after Hamas agreed to the offer, Israel backed out. It was also agreed that the Palestinian women detained in Israel would be released as part of the deal – but Israel withdrew this offer as well.
On Monday the newspaper reported that Israel and Hamas launched the second round of indirect talks in Cairo. Hamas military wing commander Ahmad Jabari is heading the Hamas negotiations team.
According to the article, the talks are taking place at an Egyptian intelligence facility. The sides are sitting in separate rooms, mediated by an Egyptian official. The Palestinian media reported Monday about the continuing negotiations.
Elior Levy is Ynet's Palestinian affairs correspondent
- Follow Ynetnews on Facebook