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Palestinian sources: Prisoner swap deal agreed in principle

Israel agrees to release imprisoned members of Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad in return for Gilad Shalit's return, nearly five years after his capture

Ahmed Eleiba and AFP, Thursday 2 Jun 2011
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Senior Palestinian and Egyptian officials revealed to Ahram Online that Egypt and Israel have agreed in principle a deal that will see Palestinian factions and Israel exchange prisoners. The time and place of the exchange is yet to be determined.

Sources confirmed that the breakthrough in talks came during the visit by Israel's director of Policy and Political Military Affairs at the Ministry of Defense, Amos Gilad, to Cairo on Wednesday.

“Egyptian officials gave him a list of the Palestinian prisoners prepared by Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad in return for the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas and held in Gaza since June 2006," said Ibrahim Darawy, director of the Center of Palestinian Studies. Darawy added that that all the parties (Egypt, Palestinian factions and Israel) agreed in principle to complete the deal.

“Negotiation on the implementation phase and the zero hour for the prisoner swap might take at least three days if Israel has real intentions to do so,” he said.  

Last week, the head of Hamas' military wing, Ahmed Gabary, was in Cairo to discuss the deal, which, according to Darawy, is a strong indicator that the deal is almost done.

Egyptian sources in Rafah claim to have no information about the deal, indicating that the deal will not be completed today or tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office on Thursday denied reports of a breakthrough in negotiations to free Shalit.

Netanyahu's office issued the statement after Egyptian newspaper El-Mesryoon reported that a deal to free Shalit in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners would be completed within hours.

The report cited Egypt's former ambassador to Tel Aviv, Mohammed Bassiouny, but was immediately denied by both Egyptian and Hamas officials, as well as by Netanyahu's office.

"Following the report in Egypt concerning Gilad Shalit, the prime minister's office said that contacts over Gilad Shalit are ongoing in a continuous and intensive manner, but there is no breakthrough on the subject," read the statement.

Palestinian officials in Ramallah said that envoys from Germany, Turkey and Qatar, as well as Hamas officials, were in Cairo for talks on Shalit.

Shalit, now 24, was seized in a 2006 during a dawn cross-border raid by militants from three Palestinian groups, including Gaza's ruling Hamas movement.

The group, which took control of Gaza a year after Shalit's capture, has demanded hundreds of prisoners in exchange for his release, including scores of militants responsible for deadly attacks.

Netanyahu has come under increasing criticism for his government's failure to secure Shalit's release in talks, which have been mediated by Germany.

The last indication given by Shalit's captors that he is alive was in October 2009 when a video recording showed him looking gaunt, but apparently in good health.

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