Barak denies Shalit deal

 

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak denied reports today that a deal is close with Islamist group Hamas for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

"The reports are incorrect and it's possible they are even causing damage," Barak told reporters.

Israeli media reports last Thursday cited European diplomats as saying that Shalit, held by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, was about to be sent to neighbouring Egypt.

One possibility cited by an Israeli political source was that once Shalit was moved to Egypt, Israel would begin to open Gaza's border crossings. With Egypt mediating, Israel and Hamas would then hammer out a final agreement on Hamas prisoners.

Shalit was captured three years ago by militants who tunnelled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and took him into the coastal territory. Hamas is seeking the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israel in exchange for the soldier.

On Friday, Israeli and Palestinian political sources and Western diplomats said Egypt was still working on a package of measures that would also include rapprochement between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah group.

Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip two years ago in fighting with Abbas's Fatah-led forces, is keen to bolster its support among the 1.5 million Gazans by improving supplies.

Reuters