john negroponte 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Tuesday the release of kidnapped soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit could help jump start the frozen peace process with the Palestinians.
"We are working hard but quietly [for his release]," Peretz said in a speech in Tel Aviv.
He spoke a day after US Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte arrived in Cairo for a two-day visit and a Hamas delegation came for talks with Egyptian officials about a possible swap of Shalit for Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli prisons.
Shalit was captured just outside Gaza on June 25 by Hamas-linked terrorists who tunneled under the border and ambushed soldiers at an army post.
US embassy officials declined to comment on Negroponte's visit. Israeli officials have refused to comment on the Hamas talks in Egypt.
Imad al-Alami, Hamas's representative in Syria, and Palestinian Authority lawmaker Mushir al-Masri, the spokesman for Hamas in the Gaza Strip, headed the delegation that met with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.
Hamas's political leader, Khaled Mashaal, who lives in Syria, was not part of the delegation, contrary to press reports in Israel last week.
Some progress had been made regarding an exchange for Shalit, Mashaal's deputy, Musa Abu Marzouk, said in Damascus, but there were issues still blocking the deal. They included the timing and names and numbers of Palestinian prisoners to be released, he said.
Abu Marzouk said talks were now centering on the release in three stages of 1,400 Palestinian prisoners, including 400 children and women, in exchange for Shalit.
Egypt has been attempting to negotiate his release, and National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, visiting Cairo last month, said the government had accepted Egypt's conditions for a prisoner swap and blamed Mashaal for the deal's collapse.
In Jerusalem on Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said no Palestinians would be released as long as Shalit remained in captivity. "I can't release prisoners so long as Gilad Shalit is captive," he said, according to MKs.
Paul Kennealy, deputy head of mission in Israel and the territories of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said it was up to the parties concerned to negotiate for Shalit's release. However the ICRC - which has been in constant contact with both sides and with Shalit's parents - would be happy to facilitate such a transfer, Kennealy said.
He would not disclose any information he had, if any, about such a release. "I can't say anything with certainty," he said.
He added that the ICRC had permanent staff in Gaza who could handle such a task without difficulty. "We are ready to do it."
Judy Siegel and AP contributed to this report.