Hamas wants the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit to be part of a package that would include, among other things, a mutual cease-fire with Israel and guarantees that Israel will not target Hamas leaders, sources close to Hamas said Sunday.
The sources said Hamas also wanted the package to include the reopening of the border crossings in the Gaza Strip and an end to international sanctions that have been in effect since Hamas came to power in January 2006.
"Hamas wants to end the case of Gilad Schalit as soon as possible," the sources told The Jerusalem Post. "They are even prepared to accept a smaller list of Palestinian prisoners in return for Schalit."
According to the sources, Hamas is now prepared to exchange Schalit for about 500 Palestinian prisoners, including some who belong to Fatah.
Perhaps an indication that there may be some movement on the issue, a meeting is scheduled in Jerusalem Monday in which Israel's criteria for the release of prisoners will likely be reviewed.
The meeting is expected to be attended by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, Ofer Dekel (Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's point man on the kidnapped soldiers issue) and representatives of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Israel's position up until now has been that it would not release prisoners with "blood on their hands," a wide definition that included not only those who actually carried out terrorist attacks in which people were murdered, but also those who dispatched the terrorists, or aided and abetted them.
According to media reports, which the Prime Minister's Office would not confirm, the purpose of the meeting would be to narrow the criteria so that Israel could add additional names to a list of prisoners to be released for Schalit.
Agreement had so far been reached between third-party mediators on the names of some 40 prisoners who would be involved in an exchange, the reports said.
Barak, apparently stung by Minister without Portfolio Ami Ayalon's criticism on Saturday of what he termed an intelligence failure that has prevented a military operation to free Schalit and led to his prolonged captivity, urged cabinet ministers on Sunday to talk as little as possible about the matter.
"I suggest that we keep this kind of talk to a minimum," he said. "There is no intelligence failure."
"Yes, there isn't enough intelligence to bring [Schalit] home, but we are continuing to act decisively for his return," Barak said. "The more we keep this talk to a minimum, the better it will be."
Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah, meanwhile, expressed deep concern over reports that Hamas and Israel were negotiating a possible cease-fire.
The officials warned that any deal with Hamas would undermine the PA and strengthen Hamas's grip on the Gaza Strip.
"Any agreement with Hamas would be considered a stab in the back of the Palestinian Authority," cautioned one official. "Israel may be planning to use the Hamas card to avoid fulfilling its commitments under the terms of the peace process."
Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is scheduled to visit Cairo in the coming days to discuss the proposed deal with Egyptian Intelligence chief Gen. Omar Suleiman.
The visit will take place shortly after Barak holds talks in Cairo Wednesday with President Hosni Mubarak.
The talk about a cease-fire with Israel has divided Hamas, whose leaders and spokesmen have been issuing contradictory statements about it over the past few days. While some have categorically denied reports about an impending hudna (temporary truce) with Israel, others have gone on the record to voice their support for the idea.
Ayman Taha, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, said any truce should also apply to the West Bank, and not only the Gaza Strip. He also reiterated Hamas's rejection of the Quartet's demands for lifting the sanctions: Recognition of Israel, renunciation of terrorism and acceptance of all agreements that were signed between the PLO and Israel.
Khaled al-Batsh, a senior Islamic Jihad official, said his organization would agree to a cease-fire "only after the Israeli enemy pays a heavy price for its crimes." He also warned Hamas against trying to enforce a cease-fire, saying this was not the appropriate time to talk about a hudna.
Defense officials said Barak would speak with Mubarak on a range of issues, including a possible deal for the release of Schalit, a cease-fire with Hamas and the continued smuggling of weapons and explosives from Egypt into Gaza.
Barak is scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon with Mubarak, Suleiman and Egyptian Defense Minister Muhammad Tantawi. Barak will be accompanied by his chief of staff, Mike Herzog, and Defense Ministry Diplomatic-Security Bureau head Amos Gilad.
Defense officials said one of Barak's goals during the talks with Mubarak would be to ease relations between Israel and Egypt that have over the past year grown extremely tense, with top defense officials claiming that there were enough grounds for Israel to cut off all diplomatic ties with Cairo.
In addition to the weapons smuggling, Barak will also discuss with Mubarak his recent decision to unilaterally open the Rafah crossing and allow some 2,000 Palestinians to leave Gaza and supposedly travel to Mecca for the hajj. Senior defense officials said Israel had evidence that dozens of the "pilgrims" were actually Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists who used the opportunity to leave Gaza to travel to Iran and Lebanon for military training.
Barak's visit will be his first since becoming defense minister in June. He was initially invited to visit Cairo in September but decided to postpone the trip since it was supposed to fall just days before Israel's alleged air strike of a nuclear facility in northern Syria.
Since then, Barak's office has tried numerous times to set up a visit. But Mubarak was insulted due to the earlier snub, and only following a visit to Cairo two weeks ago by Gilad did the Egyptians agree to hold the meeting.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>