Hamas is preparing a revised list of prisoners that it wants Israel to release, in a bid to reach a deal on freeing abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, as well as an agreement on a cease-fire and the reopening of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza.
The list of prisoners will be sent to Israel for review via Egyptian mediators. The new list has yet to reach Israel, Israeli officials said.
Hamas insists on a fundamental separation between the Shalit deal and the cease-fire, but realizes that Shalit must be released if Israel is to agree to a truce or the reopening of the crossing, Egyptian officials said. For this reason, Hamas is expected to accede to Egyptian pressure and agree to a package deal, in which the agreements on Shalit's release and the truce would be concluded simultaneously, but neither one would be conditioned on the other.
To reach such a deal, Hamas needs to make the list of prisoners whose release it is demanding in exchange for Shalit more palatable to Israel.
Hamas is calling for Israel to release 1,450 prisoners in a three-stage swap. According to the plan, Israel would free 100 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Hamas sending Shalit to Egypt. Once he reaches Egypt, Israel would release an additional 350 prisoners, and at a later, still undetermined date, Israel would free another 1,000 prisoners as a "gesture to Egypt."
One Egyptian official said that Shalit's release "is an Egyptian interest no less than an Israeli interest," implying that Cairo fears Hamas will breach the Gaza-Egypt border a second time if no truce is reached because of an impasse in the Shalit deal.
"This situation is liable to worsen relations between the Palestinians and Egypt, because Egypt will not be able to stand aloof if thousands of people start to stream into it from Gaza," the official said. "We cannot abide a situation in which we have to fire on Palestinian civilians in order to prevent their entry into Egypt."
But the threat of a border breach is not Egypt's sole motivation in mediating between Israel and Hamas. Egypt is also under pressure because it has committed to opening the Rafah crossing even if Israel rejects the cease-fire, Hamas officials said.
"We expect Egypt to adhere to this commitment and open the Rafah crossing immediately," a Hamas official in Gaza said. However, Hamas is waiting to see what happens with the negotiations with Israel before taking action on the crossing point.
In the meantime, Hamas is trying to get the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, involved in mediating between Hamas and Fatah, in light of his recent success in reaching a deal between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government. Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar is currently in Doha to examine the possibility of a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation meeting.
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