'Schalit to be moved to Egypt soon'

Schalit deal likely by

Captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit could be moved from Gaza to Egypt in the coming days, ahead of a prisoner exchange with Israel, Voice of Palestine radio reported Saturday. The report, which was picked up by Israel Radio and Army Radio, cited Egyptian sources who said that troops on the Rafah border crossing with Gaza have been reinforced and instructed to increase their alertness over the coming days. "Passage of Hamas officials in and out of Egypt is commonplace, but this if the first time that there is such a security presence in the area," the sources told the radio. "This indicates that something out of the ordinary is taking place." For the last week, news reports, mainly from the Arab press, have speculated that Schalit, who has been held captive in Gaza by Hamas since June 2006, could soon be coming home. Reports that spoke of Schalit's imminent release early last week fizzled by the end of the week, as it became apparent that the process might take more time, as Hamas and Israel continued to wrangle over the list of Palestinian prisoners that would be released from Israeli jails as part of the deal. On Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu heads to Germany for a pre-arranged visit. Germany, along with Egypt, has acted as a third-party mediator in the deal. Fox News reported Friday that a deal would likely be concluded next week. Fox quoted sources close to officials involved in the negotiations. According to the report, a disagreement over deportation of Palestinian prisoners from east Jerusalem had become a major sticking point. Overall, it is expected that some 1,000 prisoners would be released in two stages in exchange for Schalit. Most reports say that in the first stage, Schalit would be transfered to Egypt and at the same time, 450 prisoners, including those responsible for killing Israelis, would be released. In the second stage that would bring Schalit back to Israel, another 550 prisoners held on more minor infractions would be freed. Israel is still waiting on a number of answers from Hamas, according to Egyptian sources quoted by Fox. "What we are seeing now is the end game," an unnamed source was quoted as saying. The London-based Al-Hayat paper reported that Israel and Hamas were still at odds over the release of 50 prisoners on the list. Israel is also continuing to stand firm on its policy of not releasing prisoners who are either Israeli Arabs or Arab residents of east Jerusalem, according to the paper. Hamas said in the Al-Hayat report that negotiations were ongoing, and that the German negotiator was continuing his efforts to iron out an agreement for Schalit's release. The Jerusalem Post could not independently confirm the veracity of the reports. On Friday, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) told Channel 10 he was optimistic that a deal for Schalit would be concluded soon. In contrast, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) told Channel 2 on Saturday that he did not believe a deal had been struck yet. It is expected that the majority of the cabinet would approve a deal for Schalit's release once it has been agreed upon between the sides. Steinitz, however, said that he would likely oppose such a deal. Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.