A Hamas official on Wednesday said Israel will cave to the demands the Islamic group has made in order to release kidnapped Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.
Mohammed al-Ghoul, the Hamas minister for prisoners' affairs, said "the Israeli occupation will soon surrender to the conditions that we have outlined for the release of Gilad Shalit."
According to al-Ghoul, Israel will release the Palestinian prisoners whose names appear on a list Hamas has passed to Egyptian officials. The list includes a number of prisoners serving life sentences, as well as women, children, and some elderly inmates.
Al-Ghoul vowed that without these conditions being met, there will be no deal for Shalit.
Earlier Wednesday, the London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsatreported that Israel and Hamas have made progress in Egyptian-mediated talks for a prisoner swap involving Gilad Shalit.
Though the progress was not described as dramatic, the report said that the most encouraging development is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's agreement to renew talks from the exact same point at which they were discontinued during the latter stages of Ehud Olmert's term in office.
In addition, Hamas is said to have softened its position regarding the relocation of some prisoners to the Gaza Strip rather than repatriating them to their homes in the West Bank, according to Asharq al-Awsat. The moves comes after the idea was broached among Hamas prisoners who are believed to be candidates that would be included in a swap.
Senior Egyptian security officials will visit Damascus this week for talks with Hamas leaders on a prisoner exchange, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported yesterday. Egyptian-mediated talks, currently held under a heavy news blackout, have greatly intensified in recent weeks.
Netanyahu told officials recently that he is trying hard to bring Shalit home. If a deal for Shalit is struck, Netanyahu will have to invest even greater efforts in persuading his political partners on the right to approve the release of around 450 prisoners, most of whom were involved in major attacks that took the lives of Israeli soldiers and civilians.
Gaza-based Hamas delegates, headed by Mahmoud al-Zahar, are already in Cairo. The Egyptian media have reported that the delegation is discussing a deal for Shalit with the Egyptians, although this has been denied officially. Netanyahu's envoy to the Shalit talks, Haggai Hadas, is also in Cairo.
Hamas said its delegation seeks to discuss resuming reconciliation talks with its Palestinian rival, Fatah, and has nothing to do with the talks on Shalit.
According to Al-Akhbar, the Egyptian delegation will include Mohammed Ibrahim, the deputy of top negotiator Omar Suleiman.
The Egyptian delegation is also set to visit the Palestinian territories to try to remove obstacles to closing a deal. But Egyptian sources say a deal is not imminent and "political decisions and major concessions are required by both sides," the paper said.
Zahar is also expected to head for Damascus soon to meet with the leader of Hamas' political bureau, Khaled Meshal, and other senior Hamas officials. Zahar said a few days ago that Hamas had not submitted a new list of prisoners to Egypt in place of an earlier list of 450 names.
Hamas reportedly expects Israel to soften its position and allow some of those intended for release to go home to the West Bank rather than be deported. Israel has so far agreed to release only 325 of the prisoners on Hamas' list and wants dozens of them to be exiled.
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