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There is no deal with Hamas to free captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit at the moment, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Likud ministers on Sunday morning.
"At this point, there's no deal, and it's not clear whether or not there will be a deal," he said. "If it comes to a vote, I'll bring it to the government, but we're not there yet, and I don't know if we ever will be."
The prime minister added that though Israel wants to bring captives back home, "We need to minimize risk to civilians."
He went on to point out the connection between terrorist acts committed against Israeli civilians and the difficult of releasing prisoners sentenced for such acts, made all the more stark as details of the murder of Rabbi Meir Chai began to unfold on Saturday and Sunday.
Netanyahu praised a joint IDF-Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) operation, in which three Fatah men behind the fatal attack were killed.
"I want to praise the Shin Bet and the IDF on the speedy operation against the cell which murdered Rabbi Meir Chai," he said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. "Our policy against terrorism is clear. We will continue to respond aggressively - against any attack on Israeli citizens and against any firing of rockets or missiles at Israeli territory."
Various sources reported on Sunday morning that Raed Sarkaji, one of Fatah's Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades members killed by IDF troops during an operation to apprehend those responsible for Chai's murder, had been interned in an Israeli prison until January 2009.
It seemed as though it had taken Sarkaji almost no time at all to return to terrorism, the very activity for which he was arrested in the first place.
Also speaking on the issue was Kadima MK and former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Avi Dichter, who told Israel Radio that a deal was imminent and that Israelis would "have to learn to live" with the heavy price that would be paid for Schalit's release.
Dichter stated that Tanzim chief Marwan Barghouti and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLF) secretary-general Ahmed Sa'adat - the two most disputed names on the list of prisoners whose release Hamas demands - would not be released within the framework of a deal.
Meanwhile on Sunday, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hussam Zaci asserted that negotiations over a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas were already in their final stages.
Speaking on Israel Radio, Zaci stated that Egypt had solved 90 percent of the issues which had previously stood in the way of a deal. He added that Hamas had accepted the condition of expelling controversial security prisoners from the West Bank.