GENEVA - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has offered to play a neutral intermediary role in the exchange of soldier Gilad Schalit for Palestinian prisoners and is in talks with both Israel and Hamas leaders, an ICRC spokesman said on Thursday.

"We are talking to both sides about our offer. We have offered our services as a neutral intermediary to both sides," ICRC spokesman Marcal Izard told Reuters in response to an inquiry.

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"The ICRC will act as a neutral intermediary if both parties agree to request the organization's humanitarian services in order to facilitate the transfer of released detainees," Izard said.

Israel and Hamas leaders have reached an Egyptian and German-brokered deal to swap more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Schalit, a 25-year-old held captive in Gaza since June 2006.

Schalit's parents, Noam and Aviva, have met senior officials at the ICRC headquarters in Geneva over the years.

In June, on the 5th anniversary of his capture by Palestinian militants who tunneled into Israel, the ICRC issued an unusual public appeal calling on Hamas to provide proof that he was still alive and to allow contact with his family, as required under international humanitarian law.

"The ICRC welcomes that the ordeal of the family of Gilad Schalit will end and Gilad Schalit will soon see his family again," Izard said. "The ICRC also welcomes the reunion of the released Palestinian detainees with their families."

The independent humanitarian agency has facilitated previous prisoner exchanges between Hamas and Israel, transporting detainees to crossing points after privately interviewing them to ensure that they want to return.

"We don't know yet if we will play this role in this particular operation," Izard said.

"The most important point is private interviews held with detainees to makes sure they are sent to a place in accordance with their free will," he added.


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