Kouchner: Progress made in Schalit talks

Kouchner Progress made

lieberman kouchner 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
lieberman kouchner 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
Progress has been made toward a deal to free captive soldier Gilad Schalit, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told the media in Israel on Wednesday, as the US-based Arabic news network Al-Hurra had reported that his release could be under way by next week. According to Army Radio, Kouchner said that "the German mediation is positive, and we're not interested in doing anything to damage it." German mediators are overseeing the nondirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas for a prisoner swap. Schalit holds dual Israeli-French citizenship, and France has worked behind the scenes for his release. Kouchner met with Gilad's parents Noam and Aviva in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Aviva told reporters afterwards that she had not received any new information about her son. "It's not over 'til it's over," Noam Schalit added. According to Al-Hurra, Schalit, who has been held by Hamas in Gaza since June 2006, would be freed in exchange for 450 prisoners in the near future. Channel 1 quoted Arab media as saying that one of those prisoners could be Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti. It added that there were reports the German mediator had been in Israel and was heading to Cairo, as was Israeli mediator Hagai Elias. If a deal is concluded, then Schalit would be brought first to Egypt and then to Israel. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office on Wednesday refused to respond to the Arab media reports. The prime minister has given his negotiating team, "clear instructions to make all efforts to bring Gilad Schalit home safe and sound," the bureau said in a statement. "These efforts continue at all times." Regarding the Arab reports, the Prime Minister's Office said, "As in previous months, we have no intention of responding to foreign media reports on the matter." Meanwhile, in Gaza, a charity headed by the Hamas interior minister on Wednesday offered $1.4 million to any Arab citizen of Israel who abducts a soldier. Palestinians have frequently called on Israeli Arabs to abduct Israeli soldiers, but this is the first time that money has been offered. The Waad group from Gaza offered the bounty for Israeli soldiers in an e-mail sent to Palestinian media. The organization, which supports Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, is headed by Hamas's Interior Minister Fathi Hamad. The minister did not return messages seeking comment. The charity could presumably raise the cash through its connections with Hamas, which is thought to have millions of dollars at its disposal, both through its tight control of Gaza and support from Iran and other allies. Waad's director, Usama Kahlout, said the bounty was in response to an Israeli group's offer to pay Gaza residents for information on the Schalit's whereabouts. The Born to Freedom Foundation offered $10 million for information pertaining to Israeli soldiers missing in action or held captive. Activists routinely call phone numbers in Gaza as well as in Lebanon looking for leads on missing Israeli soldiers. Israeli intelligence is also believed to call Gazans in search of information. Jerusalem Post staff and AP contributed to this report.