Hamas: We Want to Finalize Shalit Deal as Soon as Possible

Hamas leader says group wants to restart negotiations, as significant progress had been made.

Exiled Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk said on Saturday that the militant group is willing to restart negotiations for a prisoner exchange that would free abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and that Hamas would like to reach an agreement as quickly as possible.

Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas' Damascus-based political bureau, told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Shuruq that significant progress had been made in the Egypt-mediated talks between Hamas and Israel, but not enough to finalize a deal.

Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in a 2006 cross-border raid. Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, some of them directly involved in the murder of Israeli citizens, in return for Shalit's freedom.

An unnamed Egyptian source on Saturday criticized Israel's stance during the negotiations in an interview with London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, saying that Israel presumed Hamas was under pressure to finalize an agreement while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was still in office.

The source was quoted as saying that the possibility of reaching an agreement still exists, despite Israel's problematic demands.

The source specifically mentioned Israel's request to deport 200 Palestinian prisoners from Hamas' list to other Arab or Western nations. According to the source, there are nations being considered that have no diplomatic ties with Hamas, and that would effectively render those men to house arrest.

Damascus-based Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal on Friday told Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald that Israel should show more flexibility in the face of Hamas demands in exchange for Gilad Shalit, or otherwise risk more of its troops being abducted by Hamas.