Report: Top Hamas Officials in Damascus to Discuss Shalit Swap

German FM: Premature talk could jinx Shalit deal; Mediators have made breakthrough, says Al-Hayyat.

A Palestinian delegation involved in the negotiations in Cairo to free abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit arrived in Damascus to discuss finalizing the deal with Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal, Arabic news station Al Arabiya reported Tuesday.

According to the report, Israel has refused to release some prisoners to neighboring countries, preferring to send them elsewhere instead.

Meanwhile, visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Tuesday refused to discuss the negotiations underway in Cairo to free Shalit, a deal German officials have been mediating between Israel and Hamas.

After meeting Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Westerwelle said he hoped an agreement could be reached shortly, but warned that premature elaboration could thwart a positive outcome.

For his part, Lieberman also refused to offer a stance on the matter, saying: "I will discuss the matter when I know all the details."

Despite Israeli sources' predictions that the cabinet would give its majority approval to the deal, Lieberman said "the decision won't be easy." Each of the ministers in his Yisrael Beiteinu party would vote according to their personal sentiment, he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that the prisoner swap deal with Hamas has still not been reached, despite growing reports of significant breakthroughs over the last few days.

The prime minister pledged that as soon as the sides finalized an agreement, the deal would be brought to the cabinet and to the Israeli public for discussion.

"We will not avoid a public discussion nor take this as a chance for underhanded opportunism," the prime minister promised during a visit to the Israel Police headquarters. "We will allow cabinet ministers and the public to debate the issue."

He made his remarks as a group of bereaved parents petitioned the High Court of Justice to force the government to fully disclose the details of any exchange deal made with Hamas.

"There is still no deal and I don't know if there will be," Netanyahu said. "Right now, we can't make decisions on something that has not been finalized. Nothing has been finalized, and there is no deal yet."

Trade Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said earlier Tuesday, however, that Israel and Hamas are closer than ever to securing a deal with Hamas for Shalit's release.

Ben-Eliezer told Army Radio that the price for Shalit's release was difficult, but "in the end, the government will have to decide - and I hope the decision will be for the best."

'Barghouti to be freed in Shalit swap'

Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti - currently serving five life sentences in an Israeli jail - will be one of the Palestinian prisoners freed in exchange for Shalit, the Al-Hayyat daily reported on Tuesday.

According to the report, the German officials mediating the negotiations between Israel and Hamas have made significant breakthroughs since their arrival in Cairo on Monday.

The Arabic-language news station Al Arabiya, meanwhile, reported that a Hamas delegation that arrived in Cairo would discuss the issue with the German mediator.

In recent days Netanyahu has been working to ensure that the cabinet will approve the deal. At a meeting in his office a few days ago, the possibility was raised of submitting the agreement to a limited forum before presenting it to the entire cabinet for approval.

The idea is to create momentum to push the deal through. Also discussed was the possibility of having the security cabinet, or the entire cabinet, authorize Netanyahu, or a limited forum to approve a deal.

"There is no deal yet and I can't yet know whether there will be a deal," Netanyahu told Likud ministers on Monday. "It doesn't depend only on us. On the other side, too, there are various positions and indecision. It is still unclear what will happen, what will be proposed and what we will agree to."

Netanyahu said he plans to hold a broad discussion on the matter in the Knesset and cabinet. He met Monday night with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. Observers say he is likely to bring the proposal to the full Knesset for discussion, but to submit it for a vote in the cabinet only. A few MKs are trying to persuade the prime minister to have the Knesset vote.

"There will be a public discussion and there will be a discussion in the Knesset on the issue, which must be approved by the cabinet," Netanyahu reportedly said at the meeting. "There is still no discussion in the faction or in the cabinet because there is still no deal."

Netanyahu says the decision "is between two poles: on the one hand, the desire to take care of our soldiers and bring them home, sometimes at the cost of endangering lives - a very important value for our people and in Jewish tradition - and on the other, avoiding the encouragement of future abductions."

The Prime Minister's Bureau broke its recent silence on the issue Monday, releasing a statement alluding to reports in the Arab and international press. "Recently many details originating from abroad and the foreign media have been published; they are unauthorized, and some are intentionally distorted," the bureau said. "The efforts toward Shalit's release have always been kept away from the media's gaze and [Netanyahu] does not intend to revisit the issue."

Cabinet still not decided on Shalit vote

Many cabinet members have not yet decided how to vote if a deal is submitted to the cabinet. Ministers from Labor and Shas are likely to support it, while those from Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu are likely to present the greatest obstacle.

Likud ministers are refusing to say how they will vote, and a few, speaking on condition of anonymity, have hinted that they might vote against an agreement.

Hamas' delegation in Cairo includes Ahmed Jabri, the head of Hamas' military wing and senior Hamas figures Mahmoud al-Zahar, Ayman Taha and Salah al-Bardawil.

Syria-based Hamas members of the delegation are expected to return home after the talks to brief the head of the organization's political bureau, Khaled Meshal. Only after that will Hamas' position on the German mediator's latest proposals be known. According to the American Arabic-language television network Alhurra, the mediator left Israel Monday night for Egypt.

The Hamas newspaper Al-Risalah reported that the deal for Shalit's release would be carried out shortly after the end of the Islamic holiday Id al-Adha, which begins on Friday and ends on Monday. The paper said the sticking point was a single prisoner whom Hamas wants freed, although other sources say this report is unreliable.

Egyptian sources added Monday that there are a number of open issues and that they did not expect the swap to happen within the next week.