A Hamas delegation headed by group strongman Mahmoud Zahar returned to the Gaza Strip from Cairo on Saturday, after holding talks regarding a prisoner swap deal that would secure the release of abducted Israel Defense Soldier Gilad Shalit.

Zahar, alongside Ahmed Jabari, the head of the Hamas's military wing and a leading Hamas figure on prisoner exchange talks, arrived in Cairo on Monday, where they reportedly met with top Egyptian security officials.

Also on Saturday, the Palestinian Ma'an news agency reported significant advances in attempts to seal an agreement that would see the exchange of Palestinian prisoners for the IDF soldier.

Shalit, who was captured in June 2006 in a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip, marked his fourth birthday in captivity on Friday.

On Friday, the London-based Arabic language newspaper al-Hayat reported that Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal is expected to fly to Cairo next week to approve the Shalit deal.

Meanwhile, a German intelligence official has arrived in Cairo to help mediate on the Shalit deal, senior German officials told Haaretz on Thursday.

As part of the efforts, the German official will "interview" senior Israeli, Egyptian and Hamas officials in order to find out the reasons for the standstill in negotiations and to offer a path to bring about a breakthrough.

The German sources told Haaretz that Hamas sees German intelligence as an honest broker. They added that the German official would not replace Egypt's mediator in the negotiations, but would rather act as an external adviser.

The sources said that the German mediator had already held talks with the Hamas leadership in Damascus and had even had meetings with senior Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip. He had also met with Israel's chief Shalit negotiator, Haggai Hadas, and with other Israeli officials, the sources said.

Meshal to attend father's funeral in Jordan

A government official says Jordan will allow the Hamas leader to return to the country for his father's funeral on Saturday, 10 years after it expelled him in a crackdown on Palestinian militants.

An official in Meshal's office in Syria confirmed he would attend the funeral in his first visit to Jordan since his expulsion.

Jordan carried out its 1999 crackdown in response to pressure from the United States, Israel and the Palestinians. It shut down offices and expelled Meshal and other leaders.

The Jordanian official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

He said Jordan's king was allowing the visit on humanitarian grounds.