Israel's Prez reports 'progress' in talks to free Shalit
Jerusalem: Israeli President Shimon Peres said on Sunday there has been "progress" in talks to free soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip for the past three years.
"Everyone knows there is progress and I hope it will come to something," Peres said on Channel 2 commercial television on his return from a trip to Egypt to meet President Hosni Mubarak.
Peres, the only political leader to have spoken about the case in recent days, did not elaborate.
Israeli military censorship has imposed a blackout on information about indirect negotiations brokered by a German intermediary between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement, which holds the 23-year-old.
Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi defended the censorship on the talks, saying that leaks "have already caused damage”.
Saudi-backed Al-Arabiya television reported that Hamas leaders will meet on Monday to study the details of a plan to swap Shalit for Palestinian prisoners.
"Significant progress has been achieved in the Shalit case," the Dubai-based channel said on its website Alarabiya.net on Sunday, citing sources within Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip.
"A German mediator has given Israel a list of Palestinian prisoners (whose release) it must approve to win the freedom of its soldier, and some expect the swap to take place just after the Eid al-Adha holiday" on Friday, the report said.
Shalit, who holds both Israeli and French nationality, was captured by Gaza militants including Hamas fighters who launched a cross-border raid in June 2006.
Hamas's armed wing said on Sunday that armed groups inside its Gaza stronghold had finalised a deal to stop firing rockets into Israel, but also said that they would respond to any Israeli raids.
Israeli commentators speculated that the announcement could be linked to progress in talks to secure freedom for Shalit.
However one faction, the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), denied it had signed up to the agreement.
Neither Peres nor Mubarak mentioned Shalit during a joint news conference at the end of the Israeli President's visit.
The conference focused instead on the future of Jerusalem, and the Egyptian leader warned: "If we don't find a solution to Jerusalem... Israel will make enemies of all Muslims around the world."
Earlier this month, Israel released several Hamas MPs who were detained in 2006 after Shalit's capture.
A spokesperson for the Israeli Prisons Authority said they were freed because the 40-month period of their administrative detention had expired. None was charged with anything.
Their discharge from prison took to 37 the total number of Hamas MPs released in recent months, including parliamentary speaker Aziz al-Dweik, who was set free in June.
Fifteen Hamas MPs remain in Israeli detention, as do two from the Islamists' secular rival Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.