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Middle east

'No deal yet' in Shalit release negotiations

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-11-24

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says a deal has not yet been reached to secure the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit, as efforts gathered pace to find an accord that would see the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday there was no deal yet on a prisoner swap with Hamas, as efforts appeared to gather pace on an accord that could see a Gaza-held Israeli soldier exchanged for hundreds of Palestinians.

"There is no deal yet," Netanyahu told deputies from his right-wing Likud party, an official present at the meeting said.

"The question will be decided by the government and there will be a debate in the Knesset," he said, referring to Israel's parliament.

He spoke as rumours grew in Israel, Gaza and Egypt that the two sides were on the

verge of sealing a deal in talks to exchange Gilad Shalit, who was seized by Gaza militants in 2006, in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

A day after the Israeli president spoke of "progress" in the negotiations, Shalit's parents met senior government officials and a Hamas delegation arrived in Egypt, which has been a key player in months of indirect talks.

"I can't give any details of this morning's meeting," said Noam Shalit, father of the 23-year-old Gilad. "I will be reassured when my son is by my side, not before."

Palestinian prisoners

In Cairo, a senior Egyptian official said a deal has yet to be nailed down and signalled that a final list of Palestinian prisoners had not yet been agreed.

"We in Egypt think that more time is needed," said the official, who asked to remain anonymous. "It's a complicated business. There is no agreement yet on the list of names of Palestinian prisoners whose release is demanded by Hamas."

A Hamas delegation from the Gaza Strip, headed by top official Mahmud Zahar, crossed into Egypt and headed to Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials, a security source told AFP.

A senior Egyptian official said the Hamas delegation "came to inform us of the developments in the German-mediated negotiations."

Media blackout

Israeli military censors have imposed a blackout on information about the indirect talks.

"Recently many pieces of information originating abroad and in the foreign media have been published," Netanyahu's office said in a statement on Monday. "They are unauthorised and some of them are intentionally false."

Hamas has kept mum as well, with senior officials in Gaza telling reporters they were under strict orders not to talk to the press about the issue.

"Our position is that until anything is achieved on this matter, we are committed to not commenting, given that experience with the Israeli side does not encourage commenting on anything until the matter is decisively resolved," senior Hamas official Ossama Hamdan told AFP.

'Dawn of liberty'

The closest thing to a Hamas comment in Gaza came from Islamist MP Ahmed Bahar, who told a meeting of prisoners' relatives: "The dawn of liberty has arrived and we will soon celebrate our hero prisoners."

In Israel, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, touring an area not far from the spot where Shalit was seized that, said that "we have the duty to bring Gilad Shalit home and we have to be ready for all developments to do so."

Shalit, who holds dual Israeli and French nationality, was captured more than three years ago when three Gaza militant groups, including Hamas, tunnelled out of the enclave and attacked an Israeli army post, killing two other soldiers.

In early October, Israel freed 20 Palestinian women prisoners in exchange for the first video of Shalit since he was captured.

Date created : 2009-11-23


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