shalit, gilad, 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Mashaal will visit Cairo for talks on a prisoner exchange involving captured IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit and Palstinians imprisoned in Israeli jails, although the exact date of his arrival was still uncertain, a senior Egyptian official announced Sunday afternoon.
"Mr Mashaal has an invitation to come to Cairo... The visit will tackle the issue of the prisoner exchange and the situation in the Palestinian and Israeli arena," said Egyptian presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad.
In a related development, London-based Arabic language newspaper Al-Hayat reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was scheduled to meet with Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives during his visit to Damascus on Sunday. According to the report, the meeting will be attended by Mashaal and Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shalah.
On Saturday night, Mottaki met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mualem to discuss the proposed Palestinian Authority unity government.
The weekend produced a number of conflicting reports about progress in negotiations for a prisoner swap.
On Friday, Al-Hayat reported that Hamas was awaiting Israel's response to the latest deal proposal.
According to that report, the Hamas leadership had withdrawn its demand that concurrent with Shalit's release, Palestinian security prisoners would be immediately released by Israel.
Instead, Hamas was said to be willing to free Shalit, and wait two months for Israel to release some 1000 prisoners.
Al-Hayat claimed that Mashaal was expected to hear Israel's response to the proposal during his meeting with head of Egyptian intelligence Omar Suleiman in Cairo.
Moussa Abu Marzouk, a top Hamas official, had denied the report. "There is no official invitation to Cairo. There is no one heading to Cairo now," he had told the Associated Press.
National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who met last week with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, told Army Radio that Israel should accept the reported deal to secure Shalit's release.
"I want to be very careful what I say, but, I knew about the meeting (between Mashaal and Suleiman) and my feeling is that Egypt has done everything, is doing everything and will do everything in the future to aid Shalit's release," said Ben-Eliezer.
"I think that it is not a deal that Israel can live with, but one that it needs to live with," added the infrastructure minister.
Shalit's father Noam expressed cautious optimism regarding the report but added that "nothing is over until it's over."
Only last Friday, Ben-Eliezer blamed Mashaal for vetoing the Egypt-brokered prisoner swap.
Ben-Eliezer said his government 'accepted and respected' the proposed prisoner swap. 'But at the last minute, the whole issue was changed by Hamas and mainly by Khaled Mashaal.'
Egypt has also blamed Hamas for the delay and demanded Hamas immediately release Shalit to avoid a worsening crisis in the Gaza Strip.
Hilary Leila Kreiger and AP contributed to this report.