Shalit rally – 25.6.11
People attending a rally on June 25, 2011 near the site where IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was abducted five years earlier. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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Israeli and Hamas officials were scheduled to meet in Cairo yesterday for a second round of indirect talks aimed at securing a deal on abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, the London-based Arab daily Al Hayat has reported.

According to the report, the first round was held last week.

Al-Hayat quoted an unnamed top Egyptian official as saying that while there has been no breakthrough in the talks Hamas is eager to reach a deal quickly. The paper reported that Hamas military wing leader Ahmed al-Ja'abari is heading the negotiations for the organization.

In a response yesterday to the foreign reports of the talks, Defense Minister Ehud Barak declined to provide details. He said Israel is constantly trying to effect the release of Shalit and that any publicity beyond that fact could be detrimental. Noam Shalit, Gilad's father, said he was not aware of any breakthrough in the negotiations.

A German media outlet reported Sunday that senior Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad was in Cairo to discuss the situation along the Egyptian border and presumably also Shalit.

The last time Israel and Hamas were known to be close to an agreement on the prisoner exchange deal was in December 2009, when Hamas turned down a compromise offer to which Israel had agreed.

Hamas is demanding that Israel release 450 Palestinian prisoners, while Jerusalem appears willing to release half that number.

Egypt's involvement as a mediator in the latest round of talks reported in foreign media outlets reflects an improvement in relations between the provisional government in Cairo and the Hamas leadership in Gaza.

Activists block bus

In related news, yesterday morning about 20 activists for Shalit's release, including Israel Defense Forces reserve officers, blocked a bus bringing relatives of Palestinian prisoners to the Nafha prison.

Police officers removed the protesters.

Demonstrators told the passengers they would attempt to prevent them from visiting their jailed relatives until Shalit is released.