Gaza, Asharq Al-Awsat- An authoritative Palestinian source told Asharq Al-Awsat that Israel and Hamas have agreed to hold indirect marathon talks in Cairo within the next two weeks to complete a prisoner exchange deal. The source added that Egypt decided to sponsor the negotiations following meetings between Hamas representatives, Amos Gil’ad, head of the political security department at the Israeli Defense Ministry, and Omar Suleiman, Egyptian intelligence director.
According to the Palestinian source, the Israeli and Palestinian delegations will lodge in separate wings of the same hotel while the Egyptian delegates will convey conciliatory agreements between them. Asharq Al-Awsat also learned that the Egyptian delegation warned the Hamas delegation that the Israelis may have tapped the telephone lines of Hamas leaders in Damascus and Gaza.
The source highlighted that the Egyptian side convinced Hamas to agree to the negotiations provided that Egypt pressure Israel to accept the ultimatum Hamas presented to Israel concerning the release of Israeli soldier Gil’ad Shalit. Shalit has been held hostage by Hamas since his capture in a cross-border attack near the Kerem Shalom crossing on June 25, 2006. Since the capture, Hamas has confirmed that Shalit is alive through handwritten letters, and has issued several ultimatums concerning his release.
The source said that Hamas demanded the release of 350 prisoners in exchange for moving Shalit to Cairo, another 100 prisoners to deliver him to Israel, and 550 prisoners two months after his release and demanded that Egypt guarantee that Israel would implement the agreement. The source said that women and children would be among those released. According to the source, Hamas told the Egyptian party that it cannot accept Israel’s conditions for releasing prisoners, which has approved 70 of the 450 names on a list of prisoners Hamas wants released in the first two stages. Israel rejected most of the names on the basis that particular individuals have killed Israelis.
The negotiations come after Hamas and Israel signed a Gaza ceasefire via Egyptian mediation, effective from June 19, 2008, intended to stop the firing of missiles from Gaza into Israel and Israeli raids into the Gaza strip. Hamas agreed to the ceasefire only after Israel removed the condition that Shalit be released, a concession publicly protested by Shalit’s father, Noam Shalit, and many in his community. Thus far, the ceasefire has been held successfully for three days, a positive sign for the imminent prisoner swap negotiations.