Gilad Shalit
A banner celebrating the deal for the release of Gilad Shalit Photo by Ilan Assayag
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Israel and Hamas were to hold a decisive meeting with Egyptian mediation Saturday, to decide the final arrangements for the handover of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in return for prisoners in Israeli jails, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper quoted a high-ranking Egyptian official as saying.

It has emerged, however, that Hamas is seeking to expand the number of prisoners Israel will release in return for Shalit, despite already agreeing upon a list of names. Hamas came to understand Saturday that there are more than 27 female security prisoners in Israeli jails, and wants the additional eight female prisoners to be added to the list. Haaretz has learnt that Hamas has requested details of the prisoners, including their year of imprisonment and sentence, so that it could pursue means to have them released.

The Al-Hayat report quoted the Egyptian official as saying that the Saturday meeting was to determine the exact date and time of the exchange, and the location to which Shalit will be transferred. The official said Shalit will not be transferred to Egypt via the Rafah crossing, the newspaper said.

Egyptian officials believe that Shalit will not be taken to Cairo, as previously surmised, due to security reasons. According to the Al-Hayat report, the officials said Israel refused to allow the soldier to be reunited with his family members in the Egyptian capital, owing to security concerns.

The senior Egyptian official reportedly revealed additional information about the developmental stages leading up to the final signing of the prisoner exchange deal, saying the breakthrough in negotiations began in August. He added that on the day before the exchange was announced, a marathon of negotiations took place, lasting for 24 hours straight.

He also said Israel vetoed the release of a number of terrorists, among whom were Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Saadat. The Egyptians and Hamas, he said, fought until the last minute to have Barghouti included in the list of Palestinian prisoners to be released, but the Israelis refused, saying it was impossible, for his release could only be arranged through a separate Cabinet ruling.

The official also provided details of the second stage of the prisoner swap, saying Egypt insisted the 550 Palestinian prisoners to be released be security, not criminal, prisoners suffering from health problems, who were arrested prior to the year 2000. The Egyptian request allowed for Israel to decide on which prisoners to release.

An additional result of the Shalit swap deal, the official reportedly mentioned, is that the blockade on the Gaza Strip might be eased, and that this depends on the Palestinians in the Strip. Crossings may also be opened if Hamas agrees to allow the return of international observers and representatives of the Palestinian Authority.

Israel and Hamas, with Egyptian mediation, reached the prisoner exchange deal to secure Shalit's release on Tuesday, which includes the release of 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli-Arab prisoners in return for the IDF soldier, who has been held in captivity for more than five years.