Ma'an News Agency
February 24, 2011 - 1:00am

Hamas officials have decided to hold confidential discussions with Israel, reviving negotiations for a prisoner swap, Hamas spokesman Usama Al-Maziani said Wednesday.

In the wake of the ouster of now former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, the official said, Hamas leaders in Gaza believe Israel has become "more responsive" to a prisoner swap deal.

According to Al-Maziani, Israeli officials had shown some "limited" responses to Hamas overtures seeking to secure the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israel in return for the release of a captured Israeli soldier.

The official said the meetings would be held in secret, adding that media attention was not wanted on the issue.

In the past, Egyptian officials had played a central role as mediator as sides negotiated a deal, and Al-Maziani credited the fall of the Mubarak regime with the change of tone in Israel.

"There is no more Egyptian psychological support," he said, refusing to reveal further details, but hinting at a series of confidential meetings between Israeli and Hamas officials over the past years.

Israel has not moved forward with the deal, Al-Maziani added, yet "Hamas is optimistic." The "steadfastness" of the movement, he said, would ensure a deal eventually.

In June 2006, Palestinian fighters captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Hamas officials negotiating on behalf of the factions who captured the soldier, asked later in the year for the release of hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails, in return for Shalit's safe passage home.

In 2010, a deal was nearly struck. Hamas officials insisted that 1,000 Palestinians be released, including 450 listed prisoners, and an additional 350 to be determined by Israel. On the list were high-ranking leaders of resistance movements, long-term prisoners, the elderly, women and children.

The deal fell through when Hamas refused an Israeli condition that some of the prisoners be sent to exile upon their release, and Israel's offer to exchange some of the names for others, saying they would not release prisoners with "blood on their hands."


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