A final agreement over the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad
Shalit will be reached within two weeks, according to senior Hamas
official Ahmed Yousef. Shalit is to be freed in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners
held in Israeli jails, Yousef told the Kuwaiti daily A-Rai Al-Am.  


This statement follows a previous statement published by Al-Sinara daily newspaper Thursday that the Syrian-based Hamas leadership would agree to release Shalit if exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshal and other senior Hamas leaders living in Syria could  return to Gaza.

Thursday’s report mentioned another scenario originating in Gaza that involved the release of ten Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit, but Hamas leaders in Damascus rejected the plan, because their return from Syria was not included.

Yousef denied rumors of Syrian involvement, confirming that although Hamas leaders in Gaza are considering the concerns of the Damascus-based leaders, proposals are coming entirely from Gaza. "This is a matter within the Gaza Strip, and all of the sources handling the negotiations are there as well," he said. 

Contrary to reports that Egypt had left its position as mediator, Yousef said that an Egyptian team was still involved in the negotiations between Israel and Shalit’s captors, the Hamas-affiliated Popular Resistance Committee.

Shalit was captured at the end of June 2006 in hopes of securing the release of all women and children Palestinian political prisoners, but Israel had refused until this past Monday, when it offered to release 900-1,000 women, children and elderly Palestinians in return for Shalit. Hamas turned down the deal for unstated reasons, now possibly explained by the sudden focus on Meshal’s and other Syrian-based Hamas leaders’ return to Gaza.   

The release of Shalit has been Israel’s primary concern, setting off a three-month Israeli incursion into Gaza that has killed 245 and injured over 900, but with the recent dialogue and Yousef’s statement Friday, it appears that they are much closer to solving the issue.

"It is obvious to both sides that there will be a prisoner exchange," well-informed sources told Haaretz, "But there is no concrete understanding on how many prisoners will be released in exchange for Shalit, who they will be, and when.” 

In a move that will halt dialogue completely, according the Popular Resistance Committee, Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz told Israel Radio Sunday that he is likely to intensify military operations in Gaza to stop Hamas from launching rockets at Israeli settlements. 

The Popular Resistance Committee cautioned, "If the Zionist enemy decides to enter Gaza in a large-scale raid, the file of the soldier may be closed again.”

Sourced from Haaretz