Progress Reported on Prisoner Exchange

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Arab media reported progress in negotiations on a prisoner exchange for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Palestinian terrorists kidnapped Shalit in a cross border attack on an army outpost near the Kerem Shalom crossing with the Gaza Strip on June 25, 2006. Two soldiers were killed and three others wounded in the attack.

Saudi Arabia's al-Arabiya satellite network speculated that something might happen by Friday to coincide with the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, celebrated the day after the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and commemorating "Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Ishmael," according to the Koran.

Al-Arabiya also reported that Damascus-based Hamas officials would be in Cairo on Monday to meet with Egyptian negotiators and a delegation from Gaza, led by senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar.

Al-Hayat, the London-based Arabic-language daily, reported that Israel is willing to release hundreds of Palestinians in exchange for Shalit.

In the past, Hamas has demanded up to 1,000 prisoners, including those serving time for massive terror attacks during the second intifada (armed Palestinian uprising), such as the bombings at the Sbarro pizzeria and Moment Café in Jerusalem, the Dolphinarium disco on the Tel Aviv boardwalk, and the Park Hotel Passover Seder in Netanya, which killed and injured dozens of Israelis.

The Reuters news agency, quoting anonymous officials, reported that Israel agreed to release 160 Palestinian prisoners who had been refused in past negotiations, but there was no confirmation of the report.

The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement later on Monday cautioning the public against the media hype.

“Many details coming from abroad and in foreign media are being published lately, but they are not credible and some of them are even intentionally distorted. Efforts to secure Gilad Shalit’s release are continuously underway, out of the media’s view, and we have no intentions of commenting beyond that,” the statement read.

At a Likud faction meeting on Monday, Netanyahu spoke of the dilemma Israel faces.

“On the one hand, we want to look after our soldiers and bring them back home – a value that our nation and Jewish tradition hold in the highest regard – but on the other hand we want to avoid future kidnappings,” he said.

Hamas has announced a $1 million prize to any Israeli Arab who kidnaps an Israel Defense Forces soldier.

At a press conference following a visit with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Sunday, Israeli President Shimon Peres said there had been some progress.

"There are negotiations between the two sides. I do not think I need to elaborate," he said. "I hope it will lead to a positive conclusion," Peres told reporters.

Sources: The Jerusalem Post, YNet news, Haaretz


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