Palestinian official: Israel, Hamas close to reaching Shalit deal
Comment by Palestinian envoy to Russia comes amid Hamas reports that the group's military wing chief was in Cairo for Shalit talks.
Prisoner exchange talks between Israel and Hamas, geared at the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, were near their fruition, the Palestinian envoy to Russia said on Thursday.
The comment by Fayed Mustafa, quoted by Russian news agency RIA Novosti, came after Egypt's former ambassador to Israel ignited a rumor frenzy after he was cited in the Al Masry Al Youm newspaper as saying that the Shalit deal was just hours away.
Later Thursday the Prime Minister's Office denied that there were any significant progress in Shalit talks, a claim that was seconded by an Egyptian official speaking to Haaretz.
However, speaking with the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, Palestinian envoy to Russia Fayed Mustafa said that "negotiations between Israel and Hamas, ongoing in Cairo with Egyptian mediation, are close to completion."
The RIA report stated that the Palestinian official provided no further information.
Meanwhile, the official Hamas website reported on Thursday that the head of the groups' military wing Ahmed al-Jabari has been in Cairo for several days to try and promote a Shalit prisoner exchange deal.
That report joins other Palestinian reports on Wednesday, according to which Amos Gilad, who heads the diplomatic security bureau of the Defense Ministry, has also travelled to Cairo in recent days.
However, a Hamas official quoted by the group's website denied that a deal with Israel was close, blaming the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of delaying an agreement.
This isn't the first time Hamas and Israeli officials were reported to have been in Cairo at the same time, with the last time being 2009. Then, reports claimed that Jabari arrived in the Egyptian capital for Shalit talks, as well as then Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin and Shalit talks envoy Ofer Dekel.
Speaking on the Shalit affair on Wednesday, Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said that even the leaders of Hamas do not know Shalit's whereabouts, adding that only a small group of militants were aware of where the IDF soldier was being held.
"Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh does not know where Shalit is and the Hamas chief of staff does not know either," Vilani said, in an address delivered just three weeks before the fifth anniversary of Shalit's abduction in a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip.
"There is a very small group of people who are holding Gilad Shalit that know [where he is being held], and a large number of them are no longer with us," said Vilnai.