Text size

GAZA - A source involved in negotiations for the release of soldier Gilad Shalit told Haaretz that Israel was the one holding up the implementation of a deal that could lead to his release.

Shalit was abducted from inside Israel by Hamas on June 25.

The source, who is located in the Gaza Strip, said Israel and Hamas have agreed on the principle of exchanging Shalit for Palestinian prisoners, but that the two parties have not yet decided the exact nature of the deal or how it will be carried out.

He said the kidnappers, with whom he is in contact, have made realistic demands. The source would not say how many prisoners Hamas is demanding in the swap, but he did say the number is not in the thousands, as had previously been stated.

"Moreover, Hamas has not completely rejected the Egyptian proposal that Shalit first be transferred to the Egyptians, after which Israel will free prisoners," the source said. "The problem is that the Egyptian mediation team has no response from Israel, like as to when the prisoners would be released, how many and what type. Only with these responses will the mediators be able to offer something to the kidnappers. But Israel is not clarifying its positions. It is not taking any initiative that indicates its desire to complete the deal. There is no sign of readiness, there are no messages via Israel's overt channels, and the problem is - there are no messages even via the covert channels."

The Prime Minister's Office said the charges are incorrect, and would not discuss the talks taking place. Israel would not conduct negotiations with Hamas regarding the release of prisoners, and the country is using all means to bring home the abducted soldiers, it said.

Meanwhile, the Gaza source said he knows the identity of the kidnappers, who he said have told him, "Gilad Shalit's state of health is better than good."

"I can say with certainty that they won't try to harm him," the source said. "If they had wanted to do so, it would have happened a long time ago."

He predicted that Shalit's release would pave the way for a general Palestinian agreement on a long-term cease-fire with Israel.

"The Hamas government is interested in succeeding and advancing a hudna [cease-fire]," the source said. "A unity government is also a matter of time. Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas] and [Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail] Haniyeh will not be able to survive another three years separately. A unity government will give them a second opportunity in the international community, due to the prisoners' document, among other reasons."

The source said the Egyptians have not stopped their mediation efforts, despite media reports that ties were cut between the mediation team and Hamas.

He also said the Hamas leadership in Damascus was making the decisions regarding Shalit's release, in consultation with the leaders of Hamas' military wing in Gaza.

"Prime Minister Haniyeh is not connected to this affair," the source said.