BEIRUT, (Reuters) – No serious negotiations have been held on swapping an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza-based militants for Palestinian prisoners, Hamas’s exiled political leader Khaled Meshaal said in remarks published on Thursday.
Israel has pursued a military offensive in the Gaza Strip to free Gilad Shalit, who was seized on June 25 by militants, including members of the governing Islamist faction Hamas, during a cross-border raid into Israel.
At least 209 Palestinians, around half of them civilians, have been killed during Israeli attacks since June 28.
Meshaal, in an interview with Lebanon’s al-Akhbar daily newspaper, reiterated that the Israeli soldier would only be released as part of a prisoner exchange deal.
“There is no other way except negotiations, which have not started yet because Israel refuses to admit that its attempts to free the soldier without a price have failed,” he said.
“We receive many international delegations that come to discuss the issue but none of them has a full and serious mandate,” the Damascus-based leader added.
Al-Akhbar did not say when the interview was conducted.
Palestinian Preisdent Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview published on Tuesday that an agreement had been reached between Israel and the Palestinians to hand over Shalit to Egypt “and after that the number of Palestinian prisoners-of-war (to be released) will be announced.”
Israeli media quoted Israeli officials as saying they had no knowledge of that deal. Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said on Tuesday Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would hold his first peace summit with Abbas if Shalit was freed.