GAZA, (Reuters) – One of the three Palestinian factions holding an Israeli soldier in the Gaza Strip said on Saturday it expected a solution to the crisis within days, but Hamas and a Palestinian Authority official were less optimistic.
It was the first time since Corporal Gilad Shalit was captured in a cross-border raid in June that any of the factions has said that his release in exchange for Palestinian prisoners could happen soon. The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) said in a statement that the three groups had agreed to a proposal by Egyptian mediators, though it said a deal still depended on Israel. Israeli officials made no immediate comment.
“The dawn of freedom to the prisoners is about to rise and we expect a solution to our prisoners in few days,” said a PRC spokesman, Abu Mujahed. “We confirm to you that there is a definite move in the issue of the captured soldier.”
A political leader of the governing Hamas Islamist group, Osama al-Muzaini, was less optimistic, saying: “Real progress has been made over the issue of Shalit but that progress did not get to the point where we can say a swap was imminent.” The armed wing of Hamas was also among the groups that captured Shalit.
Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat said it was premature to think the crisis would soon be resolved. “I don’t think we’re closer today to solving Shalit’s problem than we were yesterday,” Erekat told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Hamas and its allies have demanded the release of up to 1,400 Palestinians, including minors and women, held by Israel in exchange for Shalit. Israel has said Hamas must first release Shalit and then it will consider any prisoner release.
The PRC on Saturday said the Egyptian proposal would include the release of Palestinians held by Israel. The group did not give any details.
Last week, Israel’s infrastructure minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, held talks in Cairo and afterwards expressed approval of a framework deal that Egypt had put forward, but he did not give details.
Shalit’s capture prompted Israel to send troops back into the Gaza Strip almost one year after withdrawing from the territory it had captured in the 1967 war. More than 260 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, have been killed in the subsequent Israeli offensive.