CAIRO,(Reuters) – A delegation of the Palestinian militant group Hamas has arrived in Cairo from Syria for talks with Egyptian officials on a possible exchange of Israeli and Palestinian prisoners, a senior Hamas official said on Tuesday.
Hamas politburo member Emad al-Alami heads the delegation, which does not include the group’s political leader Khaled Meshaal, the official, Izzat al-Rishq, said. Meshaal has been expected in Cairo to answer Egyptian proposals on the exchange.
Palestinian officials have given conflicting signals on whether an agreement is imminent for Palestinian militants to release an Israeli soldier captured near the Gaza border on June 25 in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians from Israeli jails.
Egypt has been trying to mediate a deal since June and Rishq, a member of the exiled Hamas leadership in Damascus, told Reuters by telephone on Tuesday that the delegation would discuss the Israeli response to the Egyptian mediation.
Hamas had originally demanded that Israel free 1,400 Palestinian prisoners, including all women and minors, simultaneously with the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. But Rishq indicated that Hamas could be flexible on the phasing of the releases. “The moment Shalit is freed or released to a third party, Israel must free a great number of Palestinian prisoners and then the rest can be released in a short time afterwards upon strict and accepted guarantees,” he said.
“Freed prisoners must include those who spent long terms in jail … Israel will not be left alone to decide who would be freed,” he added. He also said a visit by Meshaal depended on the outcome of the talks over the Israeli soldier and Egypt’s efforts to help narrow differences between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over the formation of a unity coalition.
Hamas took over the Palestinian government after winning elections in January, but that led to a new crisis in Middle East peace-making because the group does not recognise Israel.