A source close to families of Israeli Arab prisoners on Wednesday said that they have received hints of progress in a deal that would free captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.
Shalit, an Israel Defense Forces soldier, was abducted by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in June 2006, and has been held in captivity since then. Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the Israeli soldier's freedom.
"We are receiving hints of significant progress in negotiations, although we are always careful with these things because changes can always occur at the last minute," the source told Haaretz on Wednesday, adding that they are optimistic about celebrating a "double holiday," referring to the upcoming Muslim holiday Eid al Adha, which begins next Friday.
The source said he hopes this signals a breakthrough in talks, and added that both Israel and Hamas have taken seriously the issue of reducing sentences for Israeli Arab prisoners.
Hamas sources on Wednesday also said there had been progress in the deal. "Hamas cannot concede one name of the list of prisoners from the start of negotiations." The sources added, however, that Hamas would be willing to compromise and send the prisoners of contention abroad instead of to their homes in Gaza and the West Bank.
Also on Wednesday, Arabic-language news network Alhurra, based in the U.S., also reported that a deal for Shalit's release would get underway by next week.
According to the uncorroborated report, Shalit will be released in exchange for "hundreds of prisoners."
Alhurra reported that Shalit would be released to Egypt and then continue to Israel.
Meanwhile, Noam Shalit, Gilad's father, on Wednesday met with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. Noam Shalit responded to the reports of progress on Wednesday, saying "It's not over until it's over," Israel Radio reported.
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