Avi Issacharoff, Jack Khoury
November 25, 2009 - 1:00am

Prisoner swap talks between Hamas and Israel have hit a snag over some of the top militants the Islamic group wants freed in return for Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, and a deal is unlikely in the coming days, Hamas officials said Wednesday.

Israel is objecting to some of the names put forward by Hamas, a senior official of the militant group familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press. He said the German mediator shuttling between the sides has presented an alternative list of names provided by Israel, and Hamas leaders are studying it.

Shalit was captured by Gaza militants in a cross border raid in June 2006, and has been held prisoner since. Contention over the names on the list of Palestinian prisoners submitted by Hamas to Israel for release has held up the prisoner exchange on more than one occasion.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian source told Fox News that a final decision on the deal that would see Shalit released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners does not rest solely on Hamas, but rather it is Israel that must decide whether to green light several of the names on Hamas' list and make the exchange happen.

As officials in Israel awaited Hamas' final answer, Gilad Shalit's father Noam was hard at work soliciting support among government officials for the potential deal. Should both sides agree upon the terms of the exchange, it would only be carried out after the deal was approved in a cabinet vote.

Noam Shalit met with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau on Wednesday. At the Knesset, Shalit told reporters that "we still don't have any news, we are in the process of meeting with ministers. That is the situation right now."

Shalit was scheduled to meet with chief rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger later in the day.

Waiting on Meshal

Hamas' Damascus-based political leader Khaled Meshal was scheduled to relay to the Hamas delegation his decision on the latest compromise drafted by the German mediator. Simultaneously, Israel's security cabinet was also set to meet Wednesday afternoon on another previously scheduled issue.

The London-based Arabic language daily Al Hayat reported that the Hamas leadership was split over the Israeli compromise proposal. According to the report, senior Damascus-based Hamas officials are in disagreement: while the more extreme officials insist on the release of all the prisoners on their list, more moderate Hamas leaders contend that it is futile to expect that Israel meet all of the group's demands.

The Arab daily also said that for the first time since Shalit's abduction over three years ago, Israel has agreed to release Palestinian prisoners considered "heavy" - or having committed serious crimes. However, Hamas sources told an Al Hayat reporter in Cairo that Israel still refuses to release some of the prisoners on the list, and has even turned down a Palestinian proposal to deport those men from the Palestinian territories following their release.

Among the prisoners Israel refuses to release are Ibrahim Hamed, the former commander of Hamas' military wing and the mastermind behind the terror bombing at Moment cafe in Jerusalem; Abdallah Barghouti, a relative of Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti and another mastermind of the Moment attack as well as terror attacks at Sbarro pizza parlor in Jerusalem and on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv.

The sources confirmed to Al Hayat that progress has been achieved in the negotiations over the prisoner swap, but added that the final decision will be made on Wednesday as the Damascus-based Hamas leadership reviews its options.

Earlier Wednesday, a senior Israeli official told Army Radio that the U.S. administration was opposed to the emerging understandings between Israel and Hamas surrounding the deal. "The U.S. does not support negotiations with terror organizations," the official said. "Washington knows that any release of Palestinian prisoners to the West Bank could harm Palestinian President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and become a victory for Hamas," he added.

The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC also voiced concern over the possible prisoner swap but refrained from explicitly criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, senior AIPAC strategist Josh Block told Army Radio that the Israeli government must find a balance between the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and the protection of Israel's long-term interests.

Israel is striking a deal with Hamas while it should be negotiating peace with the Palestinian Authority, Block said, adding that he hoped that Israel would be able to balance between the two.


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