New Ministerial Panel to Mull Release of Palestinian Prisoners for Shalit

Gov't on Sunday forms team to discuss prisoners Hamas wants freed in return for abducted IDF soldier.

The government on Sunday formed a new ministerial panel to discuss the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for kidnapped Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

Vice Premier Haim Ramon (Kadima) is to head the team, which will also include Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann (Kadima) and minister without portfolio Ami Ayalon (Labor).

Shalit was kidnapped by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in June 2006. He is currently held by the Palestinian Islamic group Hamas, which is negotiating with Israel for his release.

The panel is expected to discuss a change in the criteria for the release of prisoners "with blood on their hands" - those convicted of or directly connected to the killing of Israelis - in an effort to approve a list of names of prisoners submitted by Hamas in talks for the abducted soldier's release.

A similar panel was given the same task a number of months ago, although it only approved 70 names. Hamas is insisting on the release of an additional 380 prisoners.