Hamas to answer offer by next week

Hamas to respond to Isra

Hamas will respond by next week to Israel's latest counteroffer on swapping Palestinian prisoners for captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, a senior official from the terror group said Thursday. The Damascus-based official, Moussa Abu Marzouk, says the group is currently studying Israel's offer and will deliver its answer "next week at the latest." Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas' politburo, spoke to The Associated Press. A German mediator on Wednesday gave Hamas in Gaza the Israel counteroffer in the negotiations to exchange some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Schalit, who has been held for 3½ years. Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, said earlier this week that the discussions in Damascus would continue for a "few days." He said that any decision taken at the meeting would be immediately relayed to the German mediator. Zahar, like most Hamas leaders, refused to speculate on Hamas's position. According to reports in a number of Arab media outlets, Hamas has agreed to the deportation of dozens of prisoners slated for release in the context of a prisoner swap. Lawyers representing the prisoners have been asked by Hamas to seek their clients' approval for the deportation, the reports claimed. A source close to Hamas said that Israel was demanding the deportation of some 120 prisoners. The source added that Israel was still refusing to include Israeli Arabs or residents of eastern Jerusalem in a deal with Hamas. Hamas has come under heavy pressure from Palestinians not to agree to the deportation of any prisoner. Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report