Exclusive: Shalit's captors lower price

Source tells Post armed groups agree to free soldier for 500 prisoners.

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September 21, 2006 23:36
2 minute read.
Exclusive: Shalit's captors lower price

Gilad Shalit 298 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Palestinian armed groups that jointly control the fate of Cpl. Gilad Shalit in the Gaza Strip have agreed to release him in exchange for 500 Palestinians held in Israeli jails, a source involved in the negotiations told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. The three groups: Hamas's armed wing, Izzadin Kassam; the Islamic Army; and the Popular Resistance Committees, had originally demanded the release of at least 1,000 prisoners, the source said, adding that Israel had agreed to free about 400 inmates. "The negotiations are moving in the right direction and we can say that there has been some progress," the source said. "We hope that we will have good news in the next few days." The Prime Minister's Office, consistent with its policy of not commenting publicly on any negotiations having to do with Shalit, declined to respond to the reports. The source, who has been involved in the negotiations since the kidnapping of Shalit on June 25, confirmed that the captors had delivered a message from the soldier to his parents through Egyptian mediators based in the Gaza Strip. "My impression is that the captors, like many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, are interested in resolving this case quickly," the source said. "We were hoping that the soldier would be released before this weekend, but last-minute obstacles delayed the deal." The Palestinians have asked the PA's Ministry for Prisoners' Affairs to prepare a list of prisoners to be included in a prisoner swap. Palestinian Authority officials said the list, which has not been finalized, included the names of 118 female prisoners, dozens of minors and 60 inmates who had been in prison for more than 20 years. According to the officials, the list was handed to the Egyptians earlier this month so that they could discuss it with Israeli officials. They did not say whether Israel had agreed to release any of those on the list. PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar (Hamas) said Thursday that Shalit should be released at the same time as Palestinian prisoners and not in return for "promises." "The soldier should be released simultaneously with Palestinian prisoners," he told reporters in Gaza City. "The Egyptian mediators must work in this direction. We insist that all females and minors be released. We also want prisoners belonging to all the Palestinian factions, not just Hamas." Abu Obaidah, commander of Izzadin Kassam in the Gaza Strip, said on Thursday that his group was prepared to hold the soldier for years unless Israel agreed to release a large number of prisoners. "There are more than 10,000 prisoners who are waiting impatiently," he said. "Therefore we have to meet the high expectations of our people and our prisoners." Asked if the Hamas-led government was exerting pressure on the captors to release Shalit, Abu Obaidah replied, "On the contrary, the government's position regarding this case has been positive from day one. The government supports our demands and insists that the soldier should be released only as part of a prisoner exchange with Israel. The government has not put any pressure on us." Abu Mujahed, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, said he could neither confirm nor deny reports about an imminent deal. "Everything depends on whether Israel accepts all our demands," he said. He too denied that the PA government or Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's office had pressured Shalit's captors to release him. "Some Palestinians are playing the role of mediators in this case and there is no pressure on us at all," he said. Herb Keinon contributed to this report.


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