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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Palestinians: Hamas, Israel agree on Shalit deal

   Last update - 14:51 31/12/2006

      Palestinians: Hamas, Israel agree on Shalit deal

      By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Service

      Palestinian sources said Sunday that Israel and Hamas have agreed on the
details of a deal that will see the release of kidnapped Israel Defense Forces
soldier Gilad Salit, who was snatched from his base in June.

      According to the sources, the deal proposed by Israel says that Hamas will transfer to Israel a videotape showing Gilad Shalit alive, and in return Israel will released a small number of prisoners in its jails.

      Afterwards, in the second stage, Shalit will be handed over to the Egyptians, and then will be transferred to Israel. At the same time, 450 Palestinian prisoners will be released by Israel.


      Hamas will present Egypt with a list of all the prisoners whose released
it will seek and ask for Israel's authorization. Two months later, Israel will
free another group of prisoners, the size of which and those included will be
decided in Jerusalem.

      Israel has promised to be "generous" on this issue.

      A senior Hamas official told Haaretz that members of the group in the
territories were informed that there would be good news coming soon, although
they had not been given any details.

      Earlier Sunday, the spokesman of the military wing of Hamas said that
there has been a "substantial breakthrough" in contacts toward Shalit's
release, and that a prisoner exchange deal could be clinched soon.

      "If the matters continue to progress in the channel in which they are
currently progressing, I foresee a rapid deal, and in the very short term,"
Abu Abeida said in an interview to Israel Radio.

      Shalit was captured on June 25, as part of a joint Palestinian raid,
during which Hamas and other armed groups used a tunnel to cross under the
Gaza border fence and attack an IDF position inside Israeli territory.

      The radio reported Sunday that Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abu
al-Gheit told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper that a deal is effectively
ready, and only awaits Palestinian Authority approval.

      Abu Abeida denied a report that Hamas had backed down from its demands
that Israel release a total of 1,400 prisoners in exchange for the soldier,
and would demand only 500.

      "Our demands are as before," he said, adding that the report, from a
Saudi newspaper, quoting PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Foreign Minister
Mahmoud Zahar, were inaccurate.

      "We are demanding the release of 1,000 prisoners, in addition to 400
women and minors," adding that the 500 figure apparently referred only to the
number of prisoners to be freed in a first phase of the deal, the Hamas
spokesman said.

      Videotape reportedly proves Shalit alive
      The Israel media said earlier in the day that a newspaper in the United
Arab Emirates has reported that the government of Israel had received a
videotape proving that Shalit is alive and well.

      "This is in contrast to intelligence information relayed from Israel to
the United States, Egypt and Turkey, according to which Shalit is no longer
alive," Army Radio reported.

      The tape is one minute in length, Army Radio said, quoting Al-Harig
newspaper in a report based on unnamed Israeli and Palestinian sources.

      The tape was also given to the Shalit family, it said.

      On Friday, Noam Shalit, the soldier's father, published an open letter
in the Palestinian daily Al Quds, appealing to his son's captors.

      The letter opens: "We in the family, your mother, your father, Hadas and
Yoel, hope you feel well and are managing despite the tough conditions, the
winter and the difficult situation you have been in for over six months. My
Gilad, we miss you very, very much and want to see you
      with us and hug you tight, and so does the whole family and all your
friends from school. We hope it will be very soon."

      Al Quds is published in East Jerusalem and widely distributed in the
West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The letter to Gilad Shalit appeared at the top
of page 2 with an item on page 1 directing readers to it.

      Al Quds wrote that the letter had been published by the parents of the
kidnapped soldier in the hope that his captors would let him read it.

      Noam Shalit added "the fact that we don't know how you are, how you
feel, how you are making it through the winter, and how the Palestinian
organizations holding you are treating you, is very hard for us. They declare
that you are a prisoner of war, but unfortunately, they are
      preventing you from receiving the rights to which you are entitled as a
prisoner of war according to international law, and also according to the
exalted Islamic law."

      Noam Shalit also quoted verses from the Koran on the proper treatment of

      Shalit also noted in the letter that all rights should be given to his
son "as we in Israel give full rights to any prisoner or detainee regardless
of the reason for his detention."

      Shalit expressed hope in the letter that during Id al-Adha "a change
would take place in the position of the Palestinian organizations holding
you," and they would respond to "the proposals of the Israeli government and
the respected Egyptian intermediaries, and the proposals of Egyptian minister
Omar Suleiman to release many Palestinian prisoners and allow them to spend
the blessed holiday of the sacrifice at their homes and with their families.
We know that many Palestinians mothers and fathers are waiting impatiently and
looking forward to that moment, and some have been waiting for it for years."

      At the end of the letter Shalit wrote: "Don't break before you are
released, which is very close, and we are doing all we can so that your
release and the release of the Palestinian prisoners will be very close."

      Shalit also addresses his son's captors, asking them to be "honorable
enough to show you this letter without delay." Shalit told Haaretz yesterday
that he had not yet received responses from Israeli or Palestinian officials.
"We are waiting and hoping for the best after declarations by Palestinian
officials, among them Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. I hope these are not just

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