Israeli MP sees Shalit deal in weeks

JERUSALEM - A deal to exchange hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit could go ahead within two weeks, an Israeli MP said on Saturday.
In a rare public comment on the negotiations, which both Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas have kept under tight wraps, MP Daniel Ben Simon said an agreement was imminent.

(AFP/File/Gali Tibbon)
(AFP/File/Gali Tibbon)
The deal could go ahead in the next "week or two," he told a cultural event in the southern city of Beersheba.
Israeli media had earlier quoted Ben Simon as saying he heard that a deal was imminent from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, something which the MP and the premier's office both denied.
"The prime minister never said this, not to a political figure nor anyone else," Netanyahu's office said.
Ben Simon is a member of the Labour Party of Defence Minister Ehud Barak, a key member of Netanyahu's governing coalition.
Ben Simon praised Netanyahu for his willingness to make concessions to reach a deal, beyond those offered by his predecessor Ehud Olmert.
"Olmert was not prepared to pay the full price for Shalit and I am happy that Netanyahu is doing what Olmert would not," Ben Simon said. "This is an act of leadership."
Shalit, who holds both Israeli and French nationality, was captured in June 2006 when three Gaza militant groups, including Hamas, tunnelled out of the territory and attacked an Israeli army post, killing two other soldiers.
Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, whose country is trying to broker a prisoner swap, said on Saturday that Israel must respond to Hamas's demands if it wants to secure the release of Shalit.
"We told the Israelis that if you want your soldier, you must pay the price demanded by the Palestinians," Egypt's official news agency MENA quoted Abul Gheit as saying.
He said Israel should not "exaggerate its demands."
According to Arab media, negotiations have stalled over Israel's refusal to free Arab-Israeli prisoners or Hamas members responsible for particularly deadly attacks and its insistence on expelling some of the released prisoners.
Ben Simon indicated that one of the prisoners Israel would release was popular Palestinian leader Marwan Barghuti, seen as a possible successor to president Mahmud Abbas.
"He is on the list," said Ben Simon. "There is an argument about whether to release him to (the West Bank town of) Ramallah or send him overseas for a period," he said.
His comments conflicted with remarks made earlier in the week by ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who vowed Barghuti would remain in jail.
Barghuti, who was elected to the governing body of Abbas's secular Fatah party in August, is currently serving five life sentences for murder for his role in the second Palestinian intifada that erupted in 2000.

Sunday, December 6th 2009

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