'Significant progress in Schalit talks'

Palestinian newspaper reports major Egyptian achievement, but Mashaal denies real breakthrough.

gilad schalit 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
gilad schalit 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Amid conflicting reports on the prisoner exchange talks between Israel and Hamas, a Palestinian newspaper reported overnight Wednesday that Egypt had achieved significant progress in the negotiations to bring about the release of captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. Senior Israeli security officials are currently in Cairo in order to finalize the details of the prisoner exchange deal, according to a Channel 10 report which cited the Jerusalem-based Al-Manar newspaper. Damascus-based senior Hamas official Khaled Mashaal, meanwhile, denied any progress had been made. In an interview with the Qatari Al-Watan newspaper, he claimed that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was ignoring the Schalit issue in an attempt to make the terror group lower its demands. Mashaal's interview with the Arab paper will be published on Sunday, the radio station reported. Officials in Jerusalem, however, confirmed the reports that progress has been made in the talks, Army Radio reported on Thursday morning. The Jerusalem Post could not independently confirm the reports. According to Al-Manar, Netanyahu and Hamas leaders will begin working to establish support for the deal within their governments. Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, as well as all the Palestinian women held in Israeli jails, was reportedly among the prisoners expected to be released in exchange for Schalit. Al Manar claimed that two senior Hamas officials had already arrived in Cairo in order to sign the agreement, which will soon be transferred to Tel Aviv by a senior Israeli defense official. A high-level security delegation will reportedly arrive in Israel from Egypt on Thursday, while Israeli and Hamas officials study the draft before its final approval. The newspaper quoted sources who said Israel would soon complete the technical preparations to release the prisoners. The unnamed sources claimed Israel had started moving all the Palestinian prisoners to one jail, in preparation for their release, and noted that Hamas was also making the necessary preparations ahead of Schalit's release. The deal will be carried out in three stages by the end of September, it said. According to the report, a medical team will arrive in the Egyptian town of el-Arish from Israel in order to examine Schalit before he is transferred to Cairo.