'Mashaal arrives in Cairo in time for Schalit talks'

Palestinian sources tell 'Al Hayat' Israeli side showing flexibility on prisoner-swap deal.

By JPOST.COM STAFF,
August 16, 2011 18:37
2 minute read.
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal 311 Reu. (photo credit: Khaled Al Hariri / Reuters)

 
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A Palestinian delegation led by Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas's political bureau in Damascus has arrived in Cairo, Al Hayat reported Tuesday, coinciding with the rumored indirect talks between Hamas and Israel that were underway in the Egyptian capital for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit.

Palestinian sources told Al Hayat that the Israeli side has shown flexibility on issues that they had previously rejected.

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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. Hamas reportedly was also becoming more willing to "reduce the number of prisoners" needed to complete the deal.

Earlier on Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak referred briefly to the rumored negotiations, saying that there is a grain of truth behind the recent reports.

"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.


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."

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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