Mashaal in Cairo amid rumors that Schalit talks renewed

There is "kernel of truth" to media reports that contacts over swap have resumed, says Barak.

By REUTERS
August 17, 2011 02:29
2 minute read.
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal

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

 
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Defense Minister Ehud Barak confirmed there was a kernel of truth to the rumors of renewed talks in Egypt for the release of captive soldier Gilad Schalit, as exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal arrived in Cairo from Syria.

The al-Hayat newspaper on Tuesday quoted Palestinian sources as saying the Israeli side has shown “flexibility” in freeing Palestinian prisoners from Arab east Jerusalem and Israeli- Arab inmates – two categories that had been rejected by Israel.

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Israeli media further speculated Israel has reduced the number of security prisoners to be exiled from the area after their release.

Earlier on Tuesday, Barak referred briefly to the rumored negotiations, saying there is a bit 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 when asked specifically about Mashaal’s arrival in Cairo and 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 said he believes there were serious talks with Hamas “twice in the past five years, but they weren’t successful.”

A senior Egyptian security official said Mashaal, who traveled with a Hamas delegation, met with Egyptian intelligence officials to discuss reconciliation between his group and the secular Fatah Movement led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

They also touched on the issue of the prisoner swap.

“The meeting dealt with an assortment of issues, mainly the Palestinian reconciliation. The prisoner swap was discussed on the margins of the meeting,” the official told Reuters, without giving further details.

Egypt has been mediating talks between Israel and Hamas to free Schalit, who was kidnapped in June 2006 and has been held since then in Gaza.

In past talks Hamas demanded the release of 1,000 prisoners, including 450 that it named.

The list includes prisoners responsible for terror attacks against Israel.

Israeli defense official Amos Gilad visited Cairo last week to discuss “issues of concern” to Israel.

There was some speculation in the Israeli media on Tuesday that Hamas was also willing to show some flexibility because it was interested in completing the deal in advance of the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN in September.

In addition, there is some thought that the Palestinians could receive more support at the UN General Assembly if Schalit is freed, particularly since Schalit holds dual Israeli- French citizenship.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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