Noam Shalit: Hard to Believe There Is a Deal on Gilad

Statements follow Turkish TV report that Turkish officials discussing deal with Hamas in Syria.

Noam Shalit, the father of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, on Saturday expressed his doubts that a deal to secure his son's release is close to being reached, a day after a Turkish TV channel reported that such a deal could be signed by Tuesday.

Shalit told Haaretz Saturday, "It's hard for me to believe there is a comprehensive deal, but I hope there is. I would be very happy."

Shalit added that he has not received any new information pertaining to the whereabouts or well-being of Gilad, and expressed doubt that at this point a truce deal with Hamas is viable, especially if it would require Israel agreeing to Hamas prisoner release demands.

Turkish news channel CNN Turk reported on Friday that a deal to secure the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit may be reached by Tuesday.

Turkish news channel CNN Turk reported Friday that Turkish officials were currently holding talks on the issue with Hamas officials in Damascus, the base of the Islamist militant group's political leadership.

Reuters Friday quoted a Palestinian official as saying that Turkey and Qatar have taken a lead role in the negotiations over Shalit in recent months.

The CNN Turk report came after Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Friday said that Israel's leadership was making "supreme" efforts to bring Shalit back home.

"Supreme efforts are being made in order to hurry the moment when Gilad Shalit will come home," Barak told Channel 1. "We know that he is well, alive, breathing and okay, but we need to bring him here from there."

Shalit was kidnapped by Gaza militants in a 2006 cross-border raid. The defense minister's comments on his health came after Hamas officials hinted that the kidnapped soldier may have been wounded during Israel's 22-day offensive against the Islamist militant group last month.

"You know that I am a fierce critic of the prime minister," Barak added, "but in these matters, in these days, he is making a great effort, as am I, as is the IDF Chief of Staff, and the head of the Shin Bet in order to expedite the process."

The defense minister, who is Labor's prime ministerial candidate, also warned that freeing Shalit would demand painful decisions. He later told Channel 1 that he could say no more on the subject, since this would cause harm.

Hamas denies report of progress in Shalit talks

Despite the Turkish report and Barak's comments, a Hamas official involved in the negotiations said Friday that indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas over a prisoner swap for Shalit have shown little progress.

Osama al-Muzaini said any claims by Israel that progress had been made in the talks were "election-motivated".

"There has been no progress in the [Shalit] file for several months and that is because [Israel] remained unwilling to pay the price," Muzaini told Reuters.

Hamas has demanded the release of 1,400 prisoners including 450 long-serving inmates in exchange for the kidnapped soldier.

Muzaini said Israel had only agreed to 71 names from the list of 450 long-serving prisoners Hamas had proposed more than a year ago.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, meanwhile, has been making great efforts in recent weeks to clinch a deal with Hamas for the release of Gilad Shalit, and recently said privately that he is determined to try to bring Shalit home before he leaves office.

People who have spoken to him told Haaretz that Olmert wants to "clear his desk" before the end of his term by resolving the Shalit case.

Sources: Significant progress in Gaza truce talks

Barak's comments regarding the efforts to free Shalit came shortly after Israeli and Palestinian sources said that there had been significant progress in Egyptian-brokered negotiations for a truce between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

The draft agreement has apparently yet to be approved by Hamas' leadership in Damascus. The head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, Maj.-Gen. (res) Amos Gilad, is expected to travel again to Cairo in the coming days in order to advance the talks.

Since Israel ended its campaign against Hamas in Gaza two weeks ago, the sides have kept to a shaky cease-fire that has been punctuated by intermittent fighting.

But on Thursday Gilad returned from discussions with the heads of Egypt's intelligence community in Cairo, bearing the draft formula for a truce between Israel and the Islamist militant group.

According to the sources, the agreement will include the full opening of Gaza's border crossings with Israel and Egypt.

The deal is also said to stipulate the presence of Palestinian Authority security officials at the Rafah Gaza-Egypt crossing. The forces would be loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, a bitter rival of Hamas. According to the formula, the truce will hold for 18 months with the option of an extension for further 18 months.

Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas' leader in Gaza, is pressing for the deal to go ahead. As such, the main stumbling block is expected to be the Islamist group's Damascus-based political leader, Khaled Meshal, who has more extreme demands on the nature of the truce.