Negotiations over the release of kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Shalit have not been fruitful until now, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday. His announcement came against a backdrop of conflicting reports in the Arab media about an imminent prisoner swap between Israel and the Palestinians.
Speaking to reporters in Bahrain at the end of a two-day visit, Abbas said his remarks to the Gulf-based Al-Khaleej newspaper about a deal between Israel and the Palestinians had been misunderstood.
Abbas was quoted by the paper as saying that Shalit would be transferred to Egypt and held there until Israel fulfilled its part of the bargain.
"It was understood that I said there is a deal," he said. "The truth is that I said that there were agreements in this regard under the auspices of the Egyptians. However, these agreements have not produced any results until now."
Abbas confirmed that Egyptian mediators had offered to have Shalit transferred from the Gaza Strip to Egypt as a first step that would be followed by the release of an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.
A report in the London-based Al-Hayat claimed on Tuesday that Shalit was already in Egypt and that a prisoner swap with Israel was imminent. The report said Israel had agreed to release some 800 prisoners in exchange for the soldier.
Al-Hayat said Israel had refused to release prisoners "with blood on their hands" as part of the purported deal, including jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.
It also quoted Palestinian sources as saying that the Palestinians would agree to a temporary truce with Israel following the release of the prisoners. In return, Israel would halt its military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and lift the closure imposed on these areas.
Another report in Egypt's Al-Masry al-Yawm claimed that Hamas was demanding that Israel release some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners before the release of Shalit. It said Israel rejected the demand.
An Egyptian security team in Gaza is working on the final details for a prisoner exchange, the Associated Press reported quoting an anonymous Egyptian official.
Hamas's representative in Beirut, Osama Hamdan, said, "there have been some ideas, but the Israelis are not offering new things."
In Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said, "the Egyptian endeavor continues effectively, and we hope it will achieve the targeted goal." He was speaking to reporters after a meeting with a European Union envoy. "It might take hours or days," he said, without giving further details.
A Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip denied that Shalit had been transferred to Egypt, saying reports in the Arab media on this issue were "completely untrue."
Osama al-Mazini, a Hamas political operative, said his movement was unaware of any change in the status of Shalit. "This is all media gossip," he said. "I don't know of any new developments."
He said Hamas's position remained unchanged, namely that Shalit's release should be accompanied by the release of Palestinian prisoners. "Hamas does not trust the intentions of the enemy and that's why we won't accept any assurances from any party that our prisoners would be released later," he added.
Abu Mujahed, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, the group that originally claimed responsibility for the abduction of Shalit, also denied he had been handed over to Egypt. "These reports are baseless and untrue," he said. "The purpose of these false reports is to obtain information about the whereabouts of the soldier, and we have taken precautionary measures to thwart these attempts."
Meanwhile, thousands of PA policemen and Fatah gunmen demonstrated in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday to protest against unpaid salaries.
Chanting slogans against PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and the Hamas government, the demonstrators went on a shooting spree in the streets of Gaza City before attacking the building of the Palestinian Legislative Council and smashing windows and furniture. The demonstrators also beat a number of photographers and reporters who were covering the protest.
In some West Bank cities, Fatah gunmen forced shopkeepers to close their businesses to observe a general strike called by Fatah in support of the PA civil servants, who have been on strike since last Saturday.