By Yoav Stern, Amos Harel and Jack Khoury, Haaretz Correspondents, Haaretz Service and News Agencies
Government sources on Saturday confirmed reports that progress has recently been made in negotiations over the release of Israel Defense Forces soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Palestinian militants last June.
They added, however, that an agreement securing Shalit's release was still far from being reached.
"One must be careful not to build up unsubstantiated expectations over Palestinian reports," an Israeli official said under condition of anonymity.
Earlier on Saturday, a Palestinian Cabinet minister said Egyptian mediators working for the release of Shalit had provided the Israeli government with a list of the captors' demands, opening the way for the soldier's speedy release.
Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti said the Egyptians had told the Palestinian authorities they had sent the Israelis a list of Palestinian prisoners they wanted freed in exchange for Cpl. Gilad Shalit, snatched in a raid from Gaza into Israel last June. He said he did not how many prisoners were on the list and did not give further details.
On Friday, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said in a television interview that Shalit will be released soon.
"We are undertaking efforts to free Shalit and these efforts will soon come to fruition," Abbas told France 24 television of Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was seized last June in a cross-border raid from Gaza into southern Israel. "We are optimistic."
"He will be freed soon," Abbas said in comments due to be broadcast Friday evening.
However, he gave no specifics and previous comments by him about Shalit have not resulted in the soldier's release.
Abbas, speaking from the Gaza Strip, also said he hoped Israel would release hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. But he said Shalit's release should not be tied to that of the Palestinian prisoners.
"One thing does not depend on the other," Abbas said. "I am convinced Shalit must be freed."
Nonetheless, Channel 2 reported Friday evening that Hamas has given Israel a list of prisoners it is demanding be released in exchange for Shalit.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian militants holding captured Shalit recently brought him a pair of eyeglasses, the Nazareth-based newspaper A-Sanara reported on Friday.
Palestinian sources quoted in the report said that the eyeglasses were handed over by Shalit's father, Noam, through an Egyptian delegation mediating a prisoner swap deal between Palestinians and Israelis.
An attempt was made in the past to give glasses to the soldier, but Shalit's captors had refused to allow the transfer.
Abu Mujhad, spokesman of one of the three militant groups that captured Shalit, refused to comment on the report. Noam Shalit said the most important thing at this point was to receive some sign of life from his son.
Hezbollah official denies saying captured soldiers being treated humanely
A Hezbollah offical denied Friday that he told A-Sanara that the treatment being given to captured IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev was "humane," hinting at the possibility that they may still be alive, Israel Radio reported.
The official, Mohammed Kamati, was quoted as saying that "an enemy soldier that becomes a hostage is entitled to humane treatment, and he lives in a regular and humane way."
A-Sanara has interpreted the comment as a first sign of life from the soldiers, who were seized by Hezbollah guerillas in July, sparking the Second Lebanon War.
The paper quoted Kamati as saying that negotiations over the soldiers' release was entirely in the hands of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, adding that his own job was just to relate the treatment of the prisoners.
Nasrallah has said in the past that announcements regarding the prisoners that do not come directly from him hold no weight.
He also took pride over Hezbollah's treatment of the remains of three IDF soldiers captured in 2000, saying they were immediately stored and preserved until they were returned to Israel.
The defense establishment Thursday night attempted to dissect Kamati's announcement, but at this stage it is not yet clear whether it was a slip of the tongue delivered without Nasrallah's consent or an attempt at manipulating the Israeli public.
Kamati is not considered to have great standing in Hezbollah's military wing and the likelihood of his having knowledge of the soldiers' fate is slim.
An IDF medical report based on examinations of the site of the capture indicate that both Regev and Goldwasser were seriously wounded at the time of the Hezbollah ambush.
The negotiations over their release have been deadlocked for some time and as of yet, there has not been any progress.
Negotiations experts told Haaretz Thursday night that over the coming days Israel hopes to consolidate a clear evaluation of Kamati's remarks - particularly with regard to the authority of the statements.