Renewing negotiations for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit will be at the focus of talks Defense Minister Ehud Barak will hold in Alexandria this week with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Defense officials said Saturday that Egyptian-mediated talks with Hamas for Schalit's release had been frozen since the prisoner swap Israel conducted with Hizbullah in July in which the bodies of abducted reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were retrieved.
The officials said Hamas toughened its demands after Israel released terrorist Samir Kuntar, four Hizbullah fighters and some 200 bodies in exchange for the two dead soldiers.
Barak's trip, the officials said, came amid efforts by Israel to renew the Schalit talks. Last week, Egyptian officials told Israel that they hoped to complete the swap by the end of the year.
"Hamas now wants Israel to pay more," one defense official said over the weekend. "As a result, the talks have yet to really begin."
Barak will head to Alexandria on Tuesday where he will meet with Mubarak, Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman and Defense Minister Muhammad Tantawi.
Barak will also discuss other issues with the trio including the fragile cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and Egypt's increased efforts to curb weapons smuggling from Sinai under the Philadelphi Corridor into Gaza.
Tantawi is in charge of military efforts to stop the smuggling. Last week, Egyptian police claimed to have discovered half-a-ton of explosives on its way to be smuggled into Gaza.
Barak will also update Mubarak and Suleiman on the work being done by the Israeli ministerial committee to ease restrictions on which Palestinian security detainees could be released, including in a swap for Schalit.
The committee - made up of Minister-without-Portfolio Ami Ayalon, Vice Premier Haim Ramon and Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann - has made some progress in changing the criteria, an official said.