(photo credit: PA [file])
An Egyptian official on Thursday denied a Palestinian press report that Cairo had suspended its mediation role in talks with Hamas on the release of Gilad Shalit.
The report published in the Palestinian Authority's Al-Ayam daily said Hamas had snubbed the Egyptians and indicated they would rather have a different party mediate the talks - possibly Qatar. The Egyptian official said contacts between his country's mediation team and Hamas representatives continued.
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According to a previous report, Egypt's intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, had conveyed a letter to Hamas' political bureau chief in Damascus, Khaled Mashal, urging him not to delay a potential deal for Shalit's freedom.
Hints that Mashal was trying to torpedo the negotiations went hand-in-hand with the apparent rift developing between Egypt and Hamas. The Egyptian team has so far failed to reach the hoped-for breakthrough in talks with Shalit's captors, and Hamas seem to be stalling.
Hamas officials in Damascus hinted Thursday that who mediated the talks was not important as long as Israel did not meet the kidnappers' demands to release a multitude of Palestinian security prisoners in exchange for Shalit. A senior official said the group had not yet received guarantees that Israel would free jailed Hamas members, who he said should be released simultaneously with Shalit, not under Israeli guarantees for their future release.
The Palestinian Authority's minister for refugee affairs, Atef Adwan of Hamas, accused Israel of dragging out the crisis. He said Israel was wagering that as time passed, Arab states would apply more pressure on Hamas to release the kidnapped soldier. In an interview with the BBC Thursday, Adwan said that Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's Hamas-led government was interested in ending the crisis quickly in order to bring about the release of as many prisoners as possible.
Unconfirmed Palestinian reports indicated that Mashal was in Qatar Thursday, as was PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, though it was not clear whether the two would meet to discuss either the Shalit crisis or Abbas' efforts to establish a unity government with Hamas - two issues that seemed inextricably tied.