Officials: PM, Livni ready to 'pay more' for soldier; 'Al Hayat': Barghouti among 1,000 prisoners to be freed.
By YAAKOV KATZ, MARK WEISS, JPOST.COM STAFF
The second phase of a Gaza cease-fire agreement being hammered out by Egypt will include a prisoner swap and the release of abducted IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, Army Radio reported Sunday morning. According to the report, the first phase of the cease-fire would include the cessation of all hostilities between Israel and Gaza gunmen and would include a Hamas commitment to refrain from firing rockets into southern Israel for 18 months.
The London-based Al Hayat quoted Palestinian sources as saying Israel has agreed to release 1,000 Hamas prisoners in exchange for Schalit, including Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti.
The Jerusalem Post could not confirm the report.
On Saturday, government officials told The Jerusalem Post that a change in the positions of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has created a window of opportunity to strike a deal with Hamas for a prisoner swap that would free Schalit before a new government is established.
Olmert and Livni are now willing to release more and "higher quality" security prisoners in a swap than they were before Operation Cast Lead, according to the officials.
Olmert, Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak met on Saturday night to discuss the ongoing Egyptian efforts to clinch a long-term cease-fire in Gaza and efforts to finalize a prisoner swap including the return of Schalit.
The ministers were briefed by senior Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad on his talks with Egyptian mediators in Cairo on Friday.
Barak confirmed on Saturday that Israel was closer than before to reaching a deal with Hamas.
He said he would consider "any reasonable move that will bring about a speedy return of Gilad Schalit."
"A supreme, supreme effort is continuing, night and day, to speed up the process that will bring Gilad home, safe and sound," Barak said.
A top government official told the Post on Saturday night that a combination of the change in the stance of Olmert, Livni and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin to back a prisoner swap together with the outcome of last month's Operation Cast Lead had created a "window of opportunity" to reach a deal with Hamas.
According to the official, Barak, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin also supported a prisoner swap with Hamas.
"There now appears to be a greater chance for a deal than before," one official said. "It could work out in the coming weeks but it could also blow up. If it happens it is important to remember that it will come at a heavy price."
The official downplayed the significance of the Turkish involvement in the Schalit talks, saying that while dialogue was positive, the Egyptian mediation track was more likely to succeed.
Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem were ordered to refrain from talking about a prisoner swap, due to the sensitivity of the subject.
However, a diplomatic source said there had been no change in Israel's position linking a full opening of the border crossings to Gaza to a deal to free Schalit.
The official stressed that Israel hoped that the conditions created by the military campaign in Gaza could make Schalit's release possible.
A seven-man Hamas delegation, headed by "Foreign Minister" Mahmoud Zahar held talks in Egypt yesterday with intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.
This was the first time Zahar has been seen in public since Operation Cast Lead.
After crossing into Egypt from Gaza, Zahar said Hamas would be flexible about who will take charge of reconstruction. Thousands of homes and buildings were destroyed or damaged during the war, causing an estimated $2 billion in damages.
Hamas initially insisted it should supervise the spending; however, international donors are reluctant to hand huge sums to the Islamist group. "We are flexible on who should be in charge of rebuilding," Zahar said.
In the West Bank, meanwhile, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad said yesterday he would transfer $50 million in emergency aid to Gaza Strip residents whose homes were damaged during the conflict.
Senior Hamas official Osama al-Muzaini yesterday denied Turkish media reports that a prisoner swap agreement could be clinched by Tuesday.
The reports of a breakthrough were "motivated by political considerations ahead of the elections in Israel," Muzaini said.
News channel CNN Turk reported on Friday that Turkish officials were discussing a deal with Hamas leaders in Damascus.
Both the security cabinet and the full cabinet will convene to endorse a list of Palestinian security prisoners to be released if the details of a prisoner swap are finalized.
The names of the Palestinian detainees will then be posted on the Internet for 48 hours to allow those who object to their release to petition the High Court of Justice.
AP contributed to this report
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