Israel denies prisoner swap reports

Israeli officials say there has been no "breakthrough" in discussions with Hamas.

    Discussions will continue when Olmert meets Egypt's prime minister on Thursday [AP]

    But Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for the Israeli prime minister, said the prisoner exchange "will arise as a subject" in the meeting but only as one of many issues to be discussed, "including the situation in the Palestinian Authority and regional issues involving Syria, Lebanon, and Iran".
    Some analysts have said insistence by Hamas on picking the prisoners to be freed from among the 8,000 held by Israel, is likely to obstruct negotiations.
    Earlier 'breakthrough'
    On Sunday, Abu Obedia, a Hamas spokesman, was reported to have said on Israeli public radio that there had been "a breakthrough" in contacts for an exchange for Palestinian prisoners.
    Obedia said: "There is an important breakthrough in contacts for the release of the captured soldier Gilad Shalit.

    Past claims of "breakthroughs" have not
    led to an exchange of prisoners [AFP]

    If these contacts continue in the current direction, the exchange of prisoners could happen very soon."
    But both sides were clear that it was too early to confirm this report. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, said talk of a deal was premature while Eisin said only: "We never give out information on this sensitive issue."
    Erakat said: "According to my information, it's too early to talk about a deal at the moment."
    Cross-border raid
    Corporal Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, was captured by Hamas fighters in a cross-border raid on June 25.
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    Several Israeli raids on Gaza failed to recover the soldier and Israel has refused to discuss other outstanding issues with the Palestinians with Shalit still in captivity.
    Israeli media said in the first stage of a prisoner exchange, Hamas would provide a video recording showing that Shalit is alive and Israel would then free a small number of prisoners.
    Then, according to the reports, Israel would release 450 prisoners in exchange for the soldier, who would be handed over to Egyptian officials and transferred to Israel.
    Some media reports said there would be a third phase in which Israel would release additional prisoners.
    In the six months since Shalit's capture there have been numerous claims of progress and breakthroughs in contacts towarsd a prisoner exchange, but none have actually resulted in an exchange of prisoners.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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