Text size

Israel has prepared a new list of Palestinian prisoners it is willing to release in exchange for Gilad Shalit and is ready to relay it to Hamas as quickly as possible in order to further a possible swap arrangement.

The political-security cabinet decided Wednesday to make Shalit's release a precondition to any new cease-fire agreement in the Gaza Strip.

A source in the Prime Minister's Bureau stressed Wednesday that Israel is willing to enter intensive talks with Hamas in Cairo, through Egyptian mediation, in order to resolve the matter. Defense establishment and Justice Ministry officials have prepared a new list of prisoners that Israel would be willing to release in exchange for Shalit if an agreement were reached with Hamas.

Most of the prisoners on the list do not have "blood on their hands" - the euphemism used to describe Palestinians jailed for their role in the murder of Israelis. The list, which has already been presented to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, includes approximately 200 prisoners whom Hamas has requested and who were approved in the past by a committee headed by Minister Haim Ramon.

The list also includes the names of hundreds of prisoners Israel is willing to release - among whom Hamas may select. The total number of prisoners to be released was set in past agreements, which call for an initial release of 450 prisoners in return for Shalit, to be followed by another 550 prisoners released as a goodwill gesture to Egypt and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. In the end, women, minors and Hamas parliamentarians will also be released.

Sources at the Prime Minister's Bureau called on Hamas Wednesday to send representatives to Cairo as soon as possible to hold intensive talks on Shalit.

According to the Israeli proposal, Ofer Dekel, who is Olmert's envoy to the negotiations for Shalit, will meet separately with Egyptian mediators, while Hamas does the same, and the parties will agree on a formula.

"The ball is in Hamas' court," said a senior political source Wednesday. "Hamas will not get everyone it wanted. We are willing to release many people on their list, but not everyone. In any case, it is a matter for negotiation and we are willing to negotiate."

During Wednesday's cabinet meeting, Defense Minister Ehud Barak presented the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire agreement and urged his colleagues to approve it, but was unsuccessful.

"This is an opportunity that should not be missed," he said.

However, Finance Minister Roni Bar-On attacked Barak, saying, "How does this proposal bring Shalit back?"

"We will have to work wisely," was Barak's laconic response. "If you want to talk about Shalit, fine, but we will need to pay the price they [Hamas] are asking."

Olmert also attacked Barak, quoting a June 2008 document in which the head of the political-security bureau at the defense ministry, Amos Gilad, wrote that without resolving the Shalit issue it will not be possible to preserve a cease-fire agreement with Hamas.

"I did not come here to be moralistic," Olmert said, "But we would harm ourselves if we admit that we did not achieve the goals of the first cease-fire agreement. There was no calm, [arms] smuggling continued, and we did not get Gilad Shalit back. As a result we wound up with Operation Cast Lead."

At the end of the meeting, the cabinet rejected Barak's proposal to accept Egypt's cease-fire formula and adopted Olmert's insistence on Shalit-first.