A painting depicting Gilad Shait in Gaza
A Palestinian woman walks past a painting depicting abducted IDF solider, Gilad Shalit, in the Gaza Strip on March 29, 2010. Photo by AP
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A delegation of senior Hamas officials left for Damascus on Thursday for talks with the group's chief, Khaled Mashal, during which the issue of kidnapped Israeli Defense Forces solider Gilad Shalit will be discussed.

The delegation, which left Gaza via the Rafah crossing on the border with Egypt, was originally set to leave at the end of January, but was delayed when the uprising in Egypt occurred.

Shalit was captured by Gaza-based militants in 2006, during a cross-border raid. Red Cross officials have been denied permission to see the soldier.

A German mediator is continuing to shuttle between officials in Gaza and Israel in order to negotiate Shalit's release, recent reports have said.

The mediator also reportedly met with Mashal in Damascus, after which he flew with Israel to meet with top Shalit negotiator Haggai Hadas.

Hamas says that progress is being made and that the German mediator is presenting new ideas to both sides.

Last year, Fatah strongman Mohamed Dahlan blamed the failure to reach a deal on Mashal, whom he said had lost faith in the idea of making an exchange with Israel.

The greatest success that the negotiations have produced up until now is a videotape of Shalit, which Israel received in exchange for releasing 20 female Palestinian prisoners.