Hamas claims Shalit progress, Israel says it's all 'spin'

Top Hamas official tells 'Post' that Barghouti is at top of list of PA prisoners to be released.

Gilad Shalit 298 ch 10 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Gilad Shalit 298 ch 10
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Israeli officials on Tuesday continued to dismiss various reports about an impending deal for the release of kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Shalit as "media spin," even as Hamas sources were saying that the movement has agreed to release Shalit in return for "several hundred" Palestinian prisoners. The Hamas sources predicted that Shalit would be released "within days," but denied reports that Hamas and the two other groups that are holding Shalit were demanding "only" 450 prisoners. "The number will be much higher," the sources said. "In addition to 450 prisoners, Israel will also release all minors and female prisoners, but this will happen in stages. The females and minors will be released before Shalit is handed over to the Egyptian authorities." Israeli government officials, however, said these were more of the same types of claims that Hamas has been feeding to the media over the last week in order to deflect growing impatience on the Palestinian street with Hamas's inability to bring about a prisoner release. There is "nothing new here," one official said, adding that it was highly unlikely there would be any breakthrough at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's summit in Sharm e-Sheikh on Thursday. "I would be flabbergasted if Egypt could deliver Hamas on Thursday," the official said. Meanwhile, a top Hamas official in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post that jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti was at the top of the list that was presented to the Egyptians and Israelis. "If all goes well, Marwan will be released within days," he said. "Our understanding is that Israel has agreed to release many senior Hamas and Fatah activists. We are now waiting for the results of Thursday's summit between President Hosni Mubarak and Ehud Olmert." The official claimed that a breakthrough in the negotiations over the release of Shalit was achieved last week during a secret meeting between Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman in Saudi Arabia. Shalit's captors claimed Tuesday that "significant progress" had been made in the last few days toward reaching a prisoner exchange agreement with Israel. Abu Mujahed, spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of various armed Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip, said Egyptian mediators have come up with an offer "that is close to our demands." He said the three groups that are holding Shalit have decided to form a joint committee to study the Egyptian offer and work toward bringing about a prisoner swap with Israel. "We are hoping that this case will come to an end very soon," Abu Mujahed said. Asked if a prisoner deal could be struck before the weekend, he said: "The ball is now in Israel's court. We are waiting for a positive response from Israel. If Israel does not accept the Egyptian offer, we are ready to hold on to the soldier for years."