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(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal headed to Egypt for a rare visit Saturday, fueling some speculation of possible progress in protracted negotiations between the Islamist group and Israel on a prisoner swap.
German diplomats have become involved in the negotiations in recent weeks, making 11 trips to the Gaza Strip in the past month, said Ayman Taha, a Hamas spokesman. German mediators have helped arrange swaps involving Israeli captives in the past, and Taha described the German effort as "serious."
However, there have been many false alarms about an imminent swap, and there were no concrete signs of progress Saturday.
Mashaal was to arrive in Cairo later Saturday, Taha said, disputing a report by another Hamas official that Mashaal was already in the Egyptian capital.
Hamas officials gave conflicting reports on Mashaal's mission. Some said he was only to discuss the internal Palestinian conflict with Egyptian counterparts, while others said the prisoner swap is also on the agenda.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Cairo on Saturday for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, but it was not clear whether there was a connection between the visits of the two rivals, Abbas and Mashaal.
Abbas left before Mashaal arrived, but he did say the topic of reconciliation talks came up during his discussions with Mubarak. He also reiterated his stance that a total settlement freeze was a condition for restarting talks with the Israelis.