Some Palestinian prisoners freed in exchange for abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit could be exiled to Norway and other European countries, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday.
According to the report, a Norwegian security official traveled to the Gaza Strip last week to meet with Hamas leaders regarding the deal.
"The talks focused on the number of Palestinian prisoners that Israel would expel to some European countries including Norway," sources told Xinhua.
Israel is prepared to release 450 Palestinian prisoners as soon as Hamas delivers Shalit to Egypt, the sources said, and will free another 550 once the abducted soldier arrives in Israel.
This was the first time that a European state has expressed such a willingness in connection to an exchange for Shalit.
Following the IDF's 2002 Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank, Fatah operatives holed up in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity were exiled to several European countries.
The Chinese news reports are believed to be credible. In the past Xinhua has reported on several meetings between top Hamas officials and foreign leaders, and a month ago the agency was the first to report on a Hamas delegation headed by Mahmoud Zahar that traveled to Geneva to met with senior Swiss Foreign Ministry officials.
Norway has been in regular contact with representatives of the Hamas government in Gaza since its victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections. Several years ago, the country's foreign ministry appointed a special envoy to the Hamas regime, and Norwegian diplomats regularly visit Hamas leaders in Gaza and Damascus.
Noam Shalit, the abducted soldier's father, has been in contact with Norwegian authorities in the past, through the efforts of former MK Yossi Beilin. The elder Shalit asked the officials to obtain a sign of life from his son, and later Hamas released the only audio recording of Shalit that has been released since his kidnapping.
Shalit has been in Palestinian captivity since he was abducted in a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip in 2006. Reports of late have indicated progress in negotiations for his release, but nothing has yet been confirmed.
The Norwegian official visited Gaza after German negotiators joined the Egyptian mediation effort, the sources told Xinhua.
Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal, who traveled to Cairo over the weekend for negotiations on the swap, said Sunday there was still a long way to go before any agreement could be reached on a deal for Shalit's release.
The Hamas leader told reporters in Cairo that there was still "not a short path to go" before the negotiations with Israel were completed, despite the new German mediation.
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