Erekat: Don't Link Shalit Swap to Fatah-Hamas Schism

Palestinian negotiator says deal is 'national demand;' report: Mediators want Hamas to cut demands.

A deal for the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit should be viewed as entirely unrelated to the bitter divide between Palestinian movements Hamas and Fatah, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Thursday.

"Finalizing the deal is a popular and national demand and it should be isolated from any political disputes among the Palestinian factions," the Chinese news agency Xinhua quoted Erekat as saying.

The negotiator, who belongs to the Fatah movement, reportedly denied that the United States had asked Israel not to meet Hamas demands because in the negotiations, since doing so may weaken Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' position.

Erekat added that the Palestinian Authority supported the developing deal.

"We back and support the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and we are supporting the finalization of the prisoners' swap deal, but we don't support deporting large number of prisoners," he was quoted as saying.

Earlier Friday, the London-based daily Al-Hayyat reported that the German mediators overseeing the negotiations hope to convince the Islamist group to reduce the number of prisoners it is demanding be released in exchange for Shalit.

According to Al-Hayyat, three major issues were delaying conclusion of deal: First, Israel is refusing to release 50 of the 450 prisoners requested by Hamas for the swap; second, Israel will not rescind on its insisters to send 130 of the released prisoners into exile; third, Israel does not want to free Israeli Arabs as part of the deal.

Meanwhile, Hamas on Friday announced that a snag has once again been reached in the prisoner swap negotiations, despite rumors that a deal was already underway for the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

"Israel is adventurous and refusing Hamas' request to complete the deal," a Hamas official told the Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, adding that Israel's refusal had been passed on to the group via German mediators.

The group's accusations came a day after Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam reported that Hamas has rejected Israel's latest deal offer for Shalit.

According to Al-Ayyam, the gap between the two sides has narrowed to only 15 prisoners out of the 450 Hamas is demanding in exchange for Shalit. Israel has agreed to free the other 435. But the paper quoted Hamas sources as saying that the 15 prisoners Israel is refusing to release represent "a red line, without which there will be no deal."

On Friday, the spokesman for the Palestine Resistance Committees called the negotiations "difficult and exhausting" and urged the media to be careful in their reports on the matter. "It has a negative effect on the families of the prisoners," said PRC spokesman Abu Mujaheed.

Media around the world began reporting on Thursday that the deal was underway, however, The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jareida reported that Shalit had been transferred from the Gaza Strip to Egypt and was being held there secretly by Hamas' military leader Ahmed Jabari.