Report: Israel Willing to Release More Prisoners for Gilad Shalit

Israel agrees to free 220-350 Palestinian prisoners, despite its past refusals to free more than 150.

Israel has recently agreed to release 220 of the 350 prisoners convicted of serious crimes whose freedom Hamas is demanding in exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

This represents a significant moderation of Israel's position, as it had previously agreed to release only 150 of these prisoners. Nevertheless, the gap between the parties remains wide.

Altogether, Hamas is demanding the release of 1,400 prisoners in exchange for Shalit, of which it insists that about 450 be people convicted of serious crimes. Of these, it has specified 350 by name; the rest would be at Israel's discretion.

Initially, Israel had refused to release more than 450 prisoners in total, but it has now apparently acceded to Hamas' demand on the overall number. However, it is still arguing with the Islamic organization over which prisoners will be released.

Its latest offer, containing 220 of the names Hamas requested, was sent to the organization only recently and a response is expected soon, possibly even in the next few days. This offer was prepared by a special ministerial committee on the issue, which has met repeatedly in recent months to revise the rules governing prisoner releases in order to enable more people on Hamas' list to be freed.

On Tuesday, another demonstration for Shalit's release is due to take place opposite the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. The demonstrators will urge Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to obtain the soldier's return before leaving office in February. Organizers expect thousands of people to attend. Shalit's father, Noam, is scheduled to address the gathering.