Mashaal in Cairo for talks on Shalit

Shalit captive nearly five months; Livni: Syria blocking efforts to reach deal.

Gilad Shalit 298 ch 10 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Gilad Shalit 298 ch 10
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Talks continued in Cairo Friday between the exiled political leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, and Egyptian chief of intelligence, Omar Suleiman, on moves to secure the release of captured IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit and the formation of a new Palestinian government, Egyptian officials said. Mashaal met Suleiman - Egypt's point man for the Israeli-Palestinian dispute - the previous day continued the negotiations with other security officials into the evening, an Egyptian security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media. No statement was released on the talks, but Mashaal's deputy in Syria, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said that Mashaal had gone to Cairo "to discuss the Israeli soldier issue and the national unity government." "What most concerns us is the release of our Palestinian prisoners," Abu Marzouk said in a phone interview from the Syrian capital of Damascus. Militants linked to Hamas seized Cpl. Gilad Shalit from an Israeli military camp on the border with the Gaza Strip on June 25. The kidnapping provoked an Israeli military offensive in the Strip that has killed more than 200 Palestinians. Hamas has said Shalit would be released only in return for Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Abu Marzouk said the negotiations were now centering on Israel's release, in three stages, of 1,400 Palestinian prisoners, including 400 children and women, in exchange for Shalit. Hamas' representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, said Thursday that the negotiations in Cairo "might lead to freeing the Palestinian prisoners, who are considered our priority." Interviewed by Al-Jazeera television, Hamdan said Hamas was "not in a hurry" to release Shalit, but "we are in hurry to obtain the release of our prisoners, so releasing the prisoners is a must." "If (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert and his government are keen to set this soldier (Shalit) free, the way is clear: the Palestinian prisoners should be released," Hamdan told the pan-Arab satellite channel. Egypt, which has tried to negotiate Shalit's release for months, has previously blamed Hamas for the failure to bring the talks to a successful conclusion. It has told Hamas it should release Shalit immediately to avoid a military escalation in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who visited Cairo in October, said his government had accepted Egypt's conditions for a prisoner swap and blamed Mashaal for the failure to conclude the deal. Mashaal is on his first visit to Egypt for several months. Earlier this year month he hardened his position when, after Israeli tanks bombarded the Gaza town of Beit Hanun and killed 19 Palestinians in their sleep, he told reporters in Damascus that the 2005-declared truce with Israel was over. He urged all Palestinian factions to revive the armed struggle. The violence has escalated with renewed Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel and Israeli incursions in Gaza. On Thursday, Abu Marzouk said the formation of a national unity government had not been as "quick as we have hoped it would be" and blamed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for the delay. "There are new demands by Abu Mazen (Abbas) other than the initial understandings reached over the government. ... We are trying to put matters once again on track," Abu Marzouk said. Hamas and the rival Fatah party, led by Abbas, had come close to setting up a Palestinian government of experts that would, it was hoped, enable Western donors to lift their financial blockade of the current Hamas-dominated government. Since it took office in March, the government has been unable to pay its civil servants because the West cut off funding because of Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence. Earlier this week, the Hamas-Fatah talks on the new government collapsed. The tension between the two parties has sparked gun battles in the streets of Gaza in which scores have been killed or wounded.