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A ministerial commission will convene this week to discuss the standards determining the release of Palestinian prisoners, in an effort to further a deal for the release of captured IDF Cpl. Gilad Schalit, Israel Radio reported on Sunday.
Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, who is a member of the security cabinet, said the commission will consider being flexible regarding the definition which of the prisoners have "blood on their hands," so that the team negotiating Schalit's release will have a larger margin of flexibility.
"Regarding the negotiations, I think we should use original thinking. I understand there has been a progress compared to what we have seen until now. Nevertheless, I would refrain from celebrating just yet," Herzog told Army Radio in an interview.
Egyptian envoy denies Schalit reports
On Saturday evening the Prime Minister's Office confirmed reports that progress had been made in negotiations to secure the release of Schalit.
Nevertheless, PMO sources said, ending the ongoing saga would take time.
Other high-ranking officials said that the public should be tentative in believing reports by Arab sources regarding the progress of the Schalit talks in order to avoid raising expectations.
Palestinian Authority officials had claimed over the weekend that significant progress had been achieved regarding Schalit's release and said the ball was now in Israel's court.
Meanwhile, Egyptian security envoy Burhan Hammad denied reports that Schalit's captors had given the captive eyeglasses sent by his family. "These reports are nothing but speculation," Hammad, who is based in the Gaza Strip, said. "Such reports in the media are only causing harm."
Israel also had no official confirmation of the reports, which first appeared Friday in the Nazareth-based A-Sinara newspaper.
PA Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti announced on Saturday that "practical measures" had started to conduct a prisoner exchange with Israel.
"The Egyptian security team [in the Gaza Strip] has received from the captors a list with the names of Palestinian prisoners who should be released in exchange for Gilad Schalit," he told reporters after the weekly cabinet meeting in Gaza City.
"The Palestinians have done all they can regarding this case and the ball is now in the Israeli court. Israel will now decide how quick the prisoners and Schalit will return home. If the Israeli government is serious in its intentions, it must seize the opportunity to end this chapter," he said.
A senior source in the Prime Minister's Office, continuing the policy of not commenting on the Schalit case, had no response to Barghouti's comments.
However, The Jerusalem Post has learned that a list of Palestinian security prisoners - which includes some with "blood on their hands" - was received just before Pessah, and that Israel was currently reviewing the names.
Barghouti did not say how many Palestinian prisoners the captors were demanding in exchange for Schalit. But sources close to Hamas and Fatah told the Post the list includes at least 1,400 prisoners belonging to all Palestinian factions.
On Friday, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas also sounded optimistic regarding the prospects of concluding a prisoner exchange. In an interview with the French TV channel France 24, Abbas said Schalit's release was imminent. "I want to tell you that we are making huge efforts to release Gilad Schalit," he said. "These efforts will produce results very soon and he will be released soon."
Abbas reiterated his call to Israel to release all the Palestinians held in Israeli jails, without connection to the Schalit case. "We are convinced that Schalit should be released and we hope that Israel will also release all the prisoners," he said. "There should be no link between the two cases."
Mahmoud Abu Hasirra, a spokesman for the Palestinian prisoners, called on Schalit's captors not to release him unless Israel agrees to free inmates who have been in jail for more than 20 years. He confirmed that the list that was handed to the Egyptians includes many prisoners "with blood on their hands," as well as women and minors.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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