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'Unclear' if Israel can reach prisoner swap deal with Hamas, Netanyahu says

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-12-27

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel had not yet reached a deal over a prisoner swap with Hamas and it remained unclear whether it would be able to do so.

AFP - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said it was not clear whether Israel would strike a prisoner swap deal with Hamas that would see hundreds of Palestinians freed for a captured soldier.

"At the moment there is no deal and it is not at all clear to me if there will be one," a senior official quoted Netanyahu as telling ministers from his rightwing Likud party ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting.

"If we get a real proposal, I will bring it before the government, but we are not there yet and I don't know if we will get there," Netanyahu said, according to the official who was present at the gathering.

Netanyahu also said he would go to Egypt to meet President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday. Cairo had been mediating the talks for months without success before the entry of a German mediator earlier this year raised hopes of a deal.

Israel and Hamas have been struggling to reach a deal to trade hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militants in a deadly cross-border raid in June 2006.

Both sides have been tight-lipped about the discussions, but the Islamist group ruling Gaza has reported demanded some 1,000 prisoners, including several top militants convicted of killing scores of Israelis in major attacks.

The meeting between Netanyahu and Mubarak would follow a trip to Israel by Egypt's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and after Israel last week gave a German mediator its latest proposal over the swap.

Netanyahu said that the killing of a Jewish settler in a West Bank attack last week underscored fears that a prisoner release could lead to a new wave of violence.

The Israeli army on Saturday killed three Palestinians in the city of Nablus which it said carried out the deadly attack, including one who was released from Israeli prison several years ago.

"The fear that terrorists could return to terror activity is a key consideration in the negotiations on Gilad Shalit. The security of our citizens, especially those in Judaea and Samaria (West Bank) is cardinal," Netanyahu said.

"We will not agree to expose our citizens to terrorism," he said.

Israel last week passed its latest proposal to the German mediator in the indirect talks and Hamas said it was studying the offer.

Shalit has become a cause celebre in Israel, where many believe the government has a sacred obligation to bring back its soldiers and where thousands of prisoners have been released in similar previous deals.

But there are also those who are opposed to the deal, which would be portrayed as a major victory for the militant Hamas and could undermine support for its rival, the Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Date created : 2009-12-27


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