Netanyahu Refutes Claims Shalit Deal Just Days Away

Saudi newspaper al-Madina: Top Israeli negotiator arrives in Cairo to advance talks on Shalit deal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday denied reports of a breakthrough in talks with Hamas to return captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, and said people should not expect a deal to be brokered in the coming days.

"Discussions about a deal [for Gilad Shalit] being secured in the next few days have no basis," Netanyahu told a closed cabinet meeting on Sunday.

"We must return Shalit home safe and sound, but nonetheless, there is a great deal of exaggeration and inaccurate information out there", Netanyahu told the meeting.

On Saturday, German weekly Der Spiegel reported that the German mediator in the talks for the release of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit has presented Hamas with a new proposal to which Hamas would have three days to respond.

The Saudi newspaper al-Madina reported on Sunday that Top Israeli negotiator Haggai Hadas arrived in Cairo in a further attempt to advance a deal to secure Shalit's release.

According to the report, Hadas is scheduled to meet with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as well as with the German mediator.

Egyptian security sources cited in the report said that Hamas and Israel are close to an agreement, with only two major points still in contention: the deportation of some of the released prisoners to Gaza as well and the release of Fatah strongman Marwan Barghouti.

The report also stated that Egyptian security officials convened with the head of Hamas's military wing, Ahmed Al-Jabari, where, sources said, Al-Jabari was presented with a clear Israeli offer.

According to al-Madina, Suleiman is to leave for Israel in the coming days and will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Israeli security officials.

Meanwhile, the London-based daily Al-Hayat reported over the weekend that Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal is due to arrive in Cairo on Tuesday to approve a deal for Shalit's release.

Palestinian news agency Ma'an, however, says there has been limited progress in finalizing a prisoner-exchange deal.

Der Spiegel reported that a new comprehensive proposal has been put forth for a deal between Israel and Hamas involving 450 prisoners in exchange for Shalit. This is identical to what was negotiated during the government of the previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert.

The German mediator, however, included a new element in the deal that is similar to the model used in the exchange with Hezbollah for two Israeli reservists, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Accordingly, Israel would release several hundred Palestinian prisoners at a later stage, with no direct connection to the deal with Hamas. Israel would be committed to release more prisoners as a humanitarian gesture, but again this would not be part of the deal.

The gesture by Israel would not be linked to any timetable, and the release would be carried out at a time of Israel's choosing.

According to Der Spiegel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government is the side that requested the involvement of the German mediator, several months ago. The magazine also said the mediator is from the ranks of Germany's federal intelligence agency and had begun talks with the various sides in mid-July.

Meshal's deputy, Musa Abu Marzuq, said in an interview with the Jordanian daily Al-A'd that his boss' trip to Cairo may be delayed slightly because of the death of his father in Jordan. As a result, Jordan's King Abdullah is allowing the Hamas chief to travel to the Hashemite Kingdom to take part in the mourning.

This marks Meshal's first visit to the kingdom in a decade, following his expulsion from the country.

Meanwhile, a Hamas delegation led by Mahmoud al-Zahar returned to the Gaza Strip from Cairo. Zahar's trip included a visit to Damascus and talks in Cairo with Egyptian officials. It focused on the Palestinian reconciliation process between Hamas and Fatah.

Meanwhile, members of the Shalit family and the organization conducting a campaign for Gilad's release are following developments closely. They are making preparations to step up their efforts.

"We are hearing what is going on but we are not under any illusions. We are watching what is happening and are hearing things, and are waiting for the results," said the head of the campaign, Shimshon Leibman.

On Thursday the Shalit family celebrated Gilad's 23rd birthday in a ceremony in Mitzpeh Hila. Aviva Shalit, Gilad's mother, promised on behalf of the family to carry on with the efforts to gain her son's release, "incessantly, with the help of friends and the activists."

She said that "hundreds of thousands of Gaza Strip residents have paid a heavy price during the past three years for this adventure by their leadership, in poverty, in destroyed homes, and they cannot express their frustration."

  • Hamas delegation returns to Gaza from Shalit talks in Cairo
  • Gideon Levy / Gilad Shalit, not at any price
  • Shalit's mother: Gazans also want Gilad freed