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Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Israel offering to free 1,000 for release of Shalit

Last update - 12:43 05/12/2006

Israel offering to free 1,000 for release of Shalit
By Avi Issacharoff and Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondents

A senior Israeli source said Monday that the total number of prisoners that
Israel would be willing to exchange for captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit is
some 1,000.

Israel is expecting that progress will be achieved on the negotiations for
Shalit's release as a result of the meeting between Palestinian Prime Minister
Ismail Haniyeh and exiled Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshal, in
Damascus on Monday.

The two Hamas leaders were expected to have reached an agreement on the deal
that is being negotiated for the release of Shalit in exchange for the freeing
of many Palestinian prisoners.

On Tuesday cabinet minister and former senior Shin Bet official Gideon Ezra of
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima party, has proposed releasing imprisoned
Fatah-Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti in exchange for Shalit and a pledge to
continue the cease-fire.

Ezra said Barghouti's release could reduce terror and strengthen Fatah as a
moderate factor

Israel informed Egypt's intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, of its willingness
to release prisoners, during meetings the Egyptian mediator held in Israel
last week, a senior source in Jerusalem said Monday.

"We agreed to release several hundred women and children, mostly the young
among them," the Israeli source said. "We have also agreed to release several
hundred [adult male] Palestinian prisoners, among them prisoners sentenced to
many years in prison," he added.

The senior Israeli source said that the total number of prisoners that Israel
would be willing to release "revolves around one thousand. We have made the
figure clear to Egypt and they know our stance. The prisoners will be released
in a number of stages, women and children during the first stage.

Three days ago, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak confirmed that Israel will
have to release women and children as part of a deal for the release of
Shalit, even before he is handed back to Israel.

According to Egypt's plan, the first stage of the exchange will include the
transfer of Shalit to Egypt, in return for the women and children. At the
second stage, Shalit will be returned to Israel, in return for another group
of prisoners. At the third stage, another group of Palestinian prisoners will
be released.

However, any such deal is still being delayed by Hamas, the Israeli source

"The reason for the delay is not clear to us, but it is possible that the
difficulties in establishing a government of national unity is undermining the
completion of the deal," he said.

"It is hard to envision a scenario in which Israel agrees to release Marwan
Barghouti [a leading Fatah figure sentenced for his role in the deaths of
Israelis] but in any case, it should be understood that names have not been
discussed at this point. We have only talked about numbers," the Israeli
source added.

Other sources added that so far Hamas has not presented the mediators with a
list of names of prisoners they would like released.

However, the same source said that the name of Barghouti will be on such a

Mediators also confirm that in their indirect negotiations, Israel and Hamas
have not discussed names of prisoners that would be freed, only numbers.
However, they said that there is a huge gap between the claims each side is
making on the number of prisoners that are to be released in exchange for

"Israel has agreed to release about 300 prisoners," the mediators say. "Hamas
is demanding about 1400, including women and children. Suleiman has asked
Israel to raise the figure, but to date we have not received a clear answer on
this request."

The mediators also said that "there is no problem over the way the stages are
divided or the timing of the prisoner release, all of which has already been
agreed upon."

The same sources also said that in their view, Hamas would be willing to
accept a figure lower than 1,400 prisoners.

According to other sources, the difference between the Hamas demands and
Israel's position does not exceed several hundred prisoners.

The Palestinian prime minister met on Monday with Syrian President Bashar
Assad, and reports from Damascus said that the meeting focused on the efforts
of Palestinians to establish a government of national unity.

During his visit to Damascus, the first since he became prime minister earlier
this year, Haniye said that the dialogue for a unity government must go on.

"If there are any sides among the Palestinians who wish to put an end to the
talks, they will be the ones responsible for the failure of the talks," he

Meanwhile, sources who follow the talks between Haniye and Meshal said that
Hamas is willing to lower the number of prisoners whose release the group is
demanding in return for Shalit.

However, Hamas is demanding that the deal also include prisoners who have been
sentenced to long terms in prison and who are senior members of the

A senior source in Jerusalem told Haaretz Monday that there are no guarantees
that Meshal will authorize the deal, since he is under pressure from Iran and
Syria, neither of which is interested in any development that will allow the
creation of a unity government in the Palestinian Authority along guidelines
put forth by Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

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