Envoys Likely to Tell Olmert: No Shalit Deal Yet


shalit-fatherShin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s special envoy, Ofer Dekel, left Cairo this evening following days of intensive negotiations over a deal for the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Upon their return to Israel, Diskin and Dekel were to head to the government compound in Tel Aviv to update Olmert of progress made during the talks. Diskin and Dekel were expected to inform Olmert of significant rifts remaining between the two side, according to Arab and Israeli sources familiar with the negotiations.

A senior Hamas official today denied reports that progress had been reached over a deal to free Shalit, who has been in Palestinian captivity since he was kidnapped in a 2006 cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip.Hamas lawmaker Khalil al-Haya told Haaretz’s correspondent in Egypt that the media had been embellishing news of recent developments in the affair.

Sources close to indirect Israel-Hamas negotiations over Shalit told Haaretz earlier today that a deal for the abducted Israeli soldier’s release could be reached over the next 24 hours.

The Egyptian-brokered negotiations continued today after Israel’s Sunday deadline to Hamas was extended for another 24 hours. The sources said while outstanding issues still remained, a number of possible solutions were being examined.

They cited as an example Israel’s demand that some of the Palestinian prisoners to be freed in the deal will be relocated to Syria, and not to the Palestinian territories.

Meanwhile, the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat reported today that the head of Hamas’ military wing, Ahmed Jabri, is in Cairo heading the indirect negotiations with Israel over the Shali’s release.

The London-based paper said Jabri, who has never left the Palestinian territories before, arrived in Cairo four days ago to assume the role in the talks.

Jabri has been responsible for Shalit’s wellbeing in Gaza as well as safeguarding the secrecy of his hiding place. According to the report, which is based on Palestinian sources described as “credible,” senior Hamas officials Mahmoud Zahar and Nizar Awadallah are also involved in the talks.

The newspaper also reported that Israel is willing to release 300 Palestinian prisoners out of 450 on a list presented by Hamas, but maintains its opposition to the remaining 150, some of whom have been convicted of involvement in terrorist attacks.

The cabinet was to have convened this morning to discuss the details of the deal, the first such meeting called since Shalit was taken captive in June 2006. However, that meeting has now been postponed to tomorrow.

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, meanwhile, said today that there were Palestinians jailed in Israel who were not up for release as part of a deal for Shalit.

He told Israel Radio that Israel had “additional ways” of pressuring Hamas, adding that if the negotiations involving prisoners currently held in Israel failed, they would be renewed over prisoners to be held in Israel in the future.

Gilad Shalit’s brother, Yoel, said yesterdaythat, “These are fateful hours for Gilad. The decision is whether he will live or be left to his fate. From our point of view, there is no other opportunity.”

Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, who visited the tent where the family is holding a vigil near the prime minister’s official residence in Yerushalayim, said he would support a prisoner swap if it came to a cabinet vote. “I have voiced my opinion in the past as well that everything must be done to bring Gilad home,” he said. “That is the moral obligation of the State of Israel and of the present government.”

{Haaretz Report/Army Radio/I-Insider/Yair Alpert-Matzav.com Israel}