|Khalid Meshaal, the Hamas chief, arrived in Cairo amid speculation of indirect talks over Shalit with Israel [AFP]|
A top-level Hamas delegation has arrived in the Egyptian capital amid renewed speculation that the group was poised to engage in fresh indirect talks with Israel over the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit.
The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported that the Hamas delegation, headed by Khalid Meshaal, the Hamas chief, was in Cairo for talks over Shalit, who was snatched by Gaza-based fighters in 2006.
But Palestinian sources told Al Jazeera the talks were not about Shalit. They said they would focus on relations between Hamas and Cairo, on the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, on reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, and Palestinian plans to seek statehood at the United Nations next month.
Egyptian foreign ministry officials refused to comment on speculation about a fresh round of talks over a prisoner exchange deal to secure the release of Shalit.
They told the AFP news agency they could not comment on the issue due to its “sensitivity.”
Speaking to Tel Aviv-based 103 FM radio, the Israeli defence minister confirmed there was “a grain of truth” to reports that new talks would take place in Cairo to secure a deal releasing Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit.
Separately, Osama Hamdan, Hamas’ top representative in Lebanon, said there was some “softening” in the Israeli position without confirming that fresh talks were under way.
There has been “nothing new so far, so we cannot say we are close to sealing a deal,” he said in a telephone interview with Falesteen Online, a Hamas-affiliated news website.
“The Israeli position is clearly softening in the face of Hamas’s consistency on its positions and demands,” he said.
Red Cross criticism
Shalit was 19 when he was captured on June 25, 2006 by three armed groups, including Hamas, and is still being held at a secret location in Gaza.
So far, he has not been permitted visits by the Red Cross, and talks between Israel and Hamas over a prisoner exchange which would see the freeing of hundreds of Palestinians detainees in exchange for Shalit’s release, have led nowhere.
The Red Cross has criticised Hamas’ refusal to allow Shalit visitors and other rights typically afforded to prisoners of war.
Hamas says agreeing to these requests would compromise the soldier’s location.