'Talks have passed point of no return'

Hamas Schalit deal bef

Negotiations on a prisoner exchange deal to release captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit have "reached the point of no return," a Hamas source told Israel Radio Tuesday afternoon. The source said it was up to Israel and Hamas to make hard decisions, adding that disagreements over ten or 15 Palestinian prisoners were slowing down the negotiations. Also Tuesday, Al-Hayat quoted Israeli sources as saying that 17 prisoners from east Jerusalem will be freed in a potential deal to release Schalit. Ten of the 17 will be deported out of Israel, according to the Arabic-language newspaper. The report also quoted Hamas sources, who said that negotiations to secure a deal were stuck on fifty prisoners that Israel was refusing to release. Among the fifty, according to Al-Hayat, were Hamas commander Jamal Abu al-Hija and Hassan Salama. Hija was a Hamas commander in Jenin, and is sentenced to nine life terms for his role in a number of terrorist attacks, including a 2000 car bombing near a Hadera mall that killed two people. Salama is responsible for the murder of dozens of Israelis in terrorist attacks, including two bus bombings in Jerusalem in 1996 in which 44 people were killed. He was given 38 life sentences in prison in 1998. In other Arab media, Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Tuesday that Hamas had decided to postpone signing a Palestinian unity agreement with Fatah until after a deal to free Schalit was signed. Israel Radio cited the London-based paper's Tuesday report, adding that Hamas had informed Egypt that due to progress in negotiations, it wished to focus on the Schalit deal for the time being. Meanwhile on Tuesday, students from six leading religious and secular pre-military academies sent a letter on Tuesday to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, urging them to reconsider the planned release of close to 1,000 Palestinian terrorists in exchange for Schalit. Each academy sent its own letter. Students from the religious Bnei David Academy in the settlement of Eli, for example, wrote that they held a vote and arrived at the conclusion that IDF soldiers in enemy hands should not be released "at any price." "This stems from a long-term outlook and concern for Israel's security," wrote the students, who are slated for IDF enlistment next year. "Israel's experience teaches us that the mass release of prisoners, especially those with blood on their hands, can present a clear and present danger to many Israelis and boost the morale of these terrorist organizations." Students from the Upper Galilee secular academy wrote that "as citizens who will don uniforms in a year we feel that the state is obligated to retrieve Gilad Schalit and every other MIA - but not at any price." Students from the religious Atzmona academy, formerly based in the Gush Katif settlement bloc, wrote that while they share the Schalit family's pain they trust the government to "see the big picture" when considering the release of hundreds of terrorists. "On the eve of our enlistment, we are shocked to hear of the plan to release arch-terrorists who have already committed murder and likely will attack the state and its citizens again in the future," the Atzmona students wrote. Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report