JERUSALEM (AFP) – Under secret talks being mediated by Egypt, Israel could release up to 800 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a soldier captured by Gaza militants in early June, a report said.
Quoting unnamed security officials, Israel’s mass-selling Yediot Aharonot said Israel would release the prisoners in three stages and that the negotiations were being held up over the timetable of the prisoner release.
Israel has refused as part of the deal to release Marwan Barghuti, a leader of the Palestinian uprising and a top official of president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah faction, it said.
Gaza militants seized Corporal Gilad Shalit in a June 25 cross-border raid that left two other soldiers dead, sparking a widescale Israeli offensive in the costal strip to recover the serviceman and prevent rocket fire.
The continuing offensive has killed more than 200 Palestinians.
The three groups that claimed responsibility for the raid, including the armed wing of the ruling Islamist Hamas movement, have demanded that Israel release prisoners in exchange for the soldier.
The Jewish state has officially demanded an unconditional release, but local media have reported that talks have been underway for some time.
On Saturday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper that talks were under way to release the Israeli soldier in exchange for Palestinian women and underage prisoners.
The Cairo weekly Akhbar Al-Yom quoted Egypt’s foreign minister as saying that Egypt was trying to secure the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit.