Hamas's deputy political leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, confirmed overnight Thursday that significant progress had been made in negotiations for the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
"There is tangible progress," he told the AFP news agency in a phone interview from Damascus.
Abu Marzouk is the highest ranking Hamas official to indicate that the sides are nearing a deal.
His comments come as reports emerged that negotiations had again stalled and been suspended.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Thursday that Schalit should be released in any "feasible and appropriate way, but not at any price."
"We are currently in the middle of the effortsâ€¦ Hamas is discussing the proposal, we are having discussions. One must hope that a deal will ensue, but I can't say if it actually will happen or not, and if so, when," he told Israel Radio.
Barak refused to say whether he was "optimistic" on the chances of a deal bringing Schalit back to Israel, as such fluctuating and speculative emotions have no real value in this instance.
"What matters is that we have people on it, they understand the framework, they understand the goals, and are working earnestly to promote them," Barak said.
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