Barak: There's a grain of truth in Schalit talk rumors

Defense minister gives rare answer suggesting that 'Al-Hayat' report about renewed Israel-Hamas talks over captive IDF soldier's release may have some merit; earlier report says Mashaal headed to Cairo.

By JPOST.COM STAFF,
August 16, 2011 12:47
2 minute read.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak

Ehud Barak 311 (R). (photo credit: Reuters)

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday said that there is a grain of truth behind recent reports about renewed negotiations between Israel and Hamas for the release of Gilad Schalit.

"I don't want to say anything [about Schalit] because I don't think it helps," Barak said in an interview with Tel Aviv Nonstop Radio on Tuesday.

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But asked specifically about a report Tuesday morning that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was heading to Cairo amid increased Israeli flexibility in the deal, Barak said, "There is a grain of truth in the rumors."

"These reports are part of the process but I prefer not to speak [about it]," he said.

The defense minister added that he believes there were serious talks with Hamas "twice in the past five years, but they weren't successful."

Earlier Tuesday,
London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat reported  that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was expected to arrive in Cairo on Tuesday as part of a third round of indirect negotiations with Israel over the release of Gilad Schalit.

Palestinian sources said that Israel is now being more flexible on issues that were previously rejected, according to the report.

One of the issues now on the table, sources told Al-Hayat, is the release of Israeli Arabs and east Jerusalem residents, which Israel had previously refused to discuss.



According to reports in the paper earlier this week, a delegation from Jerusalem and the Islamist group met last week but failed to produce any results in negotiations, prompting Egyptian mediators to push for renewed talks.

A senior Egyptian official told Al-Hayat Monday "It is not yet possible to talk about any breakthroughs in negotiations," but added optimistically that "there is a real willingness by both sides to move forward on the deal, and Israel is ready to pay the price for freeing Schalit."

The negotiations were reportedly taking place in an Egyptian intelligence complex, with Palestinians and Israelis meeting with Egyptian officials in separate rooms. Egyptian mediators would then carry messages from room to room in order to conduct negotiations.

A senior Hamas official said last week that his movement expects “positive developments” in efforts to achieve a prisoner swap with Israel in return for IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.

Musa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of the Damascus-based Hamas “political bureau,” said that his optimism was based on “internal pressure” on the Israeli government and changes in the makeup of the mediating team, Al-Hayat reported.


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