Israel to concider Palestinian prisoner swap for Shalit, Gaza truce

Israeli PM is to convene his security cabinet to consider swapping Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier held by Hamas as part of a ceasefire deal with Gaza ruler group.

Israel to concider Palestinian prisoner swap for Shalit, Gaza truce

Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is to convene his security cabinet on Wednesday to consider swapping Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier held by Hamas as part of a ceasefire deal with Gaza ruler group.

Hamas has demanded the release of 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit.

Olmert is mounting a last-ditch effort to free the soldier before leaving office. He has refused to accept an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire until Hamas releases Gilad Shalit in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners captured by Israel.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the security cabinet would on Wednesday discuss and possibly "authorise the parameters of" a deal that includes Shalit. Another official said ministers were "discussing and debating" which prisoners sought by Hamas would be freed.

Olmert's office quoted him as telling a visiting U.S. congressional delegation that he would bring to the security cabinet on Wednesday a proposal that "aims to advance the release of ... Shalit", as well as a broader truce in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk told Al Jazeera Television from Cairo: "We are ready ... to open the file of Gilad Shalit for negotiation."

"If they want him back at home as they say, they have to let the Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons go home too."

Another Hamas official, Taher al-Nono, said "a clear agreement" on a Gaza ceasefire had been reached before Olmert, over the weekend, insisted on Shalit being freed first.

If Gazans want to rebuild, they will need Israel and Egypt to open border crossings fully, something Olmert has threated, vowing not to do until Shalit returns.

Israel is also considering freeing Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouthi "to bolster Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas's secular Fatah faction", Hamas's main rival.

Barghouthi's release might help Fatah but could speed the departure of Abbas, who has sent mixed messages about whether he wants to run again, Western diplomats said. Hamas says it no longer recognises Abbas as president because his term expired last month.

Last week's inconclusive election in Israel has triggered what may be a protracted battle over who will form the next government, giving Olmert a few weeks to manoeuvre.

Israel believes that Hamas wants to close the deal before a more hardline government, possibly led by rightist Benjamin Netanyahu, takes office.

"Timing is a factor here because Olmert wants to leave behind a clean slate and Netanyahu has an interest in taking office without the Shalit case hanging over him," a senior Israeli official said.

Reuters

Last Mod: 17 Şubat 2009, 18:33
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