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(photo credit: AP [file])
The German diplomat trying to broker the release of St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit arrived on Tuesday in the Gaza Strip, where he is expected to receive Hamas's response to Israel's most recent prisoner-exchange proposal.
On the eve of the visit, a senior Damascus-based Hamas official, Musa Abu Marzouk, accused Israel of "backtracking" from its earlier positions.
"This is the Israelis' habit," he told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper. "Whenever we are close to reaching a deal, they backtrack at the last minute."
He nevertheless expressed his movement's desire to pursue indirect negotiations with Israel to reach a prisoner-swap accord.
He said that the German diplomat "was not the first and won't be the last mediator."
Abu Marzouk did not explain what he meant when he accused Israel of "backtracking." However, he hinted that the main dispute between the two sides remained over the release of prisoners serving lengthy terms in Israeli jails.
A Hamas legislator in the Gaza Strip summed up his movement's response to the Israeli offer in two words: "Yes, but."
He said that Hamas officials who met with the German mediator expressed opposition to Israel's intention to deport 130 prisoners slated for release to the Gaza Strip and some Arab countries.
The legislator added that Israel's refusal to release prominent Hamas men such as Abdallah Barghouti and Abbas Assayed, as well as female inmates Amneh Muna, Qahera Sa'di and Ahlam Tamimi, was also hindering the signing of an agreement.
The German mediator was expected to return to the Gaza Strip "shortly" to pursue his efforts to reach a deal, the legislator said.