News24

Shalit swap 'very close'

2009-11-24 13:10

Jerusalem - An Israeli minister said on Tuesday that a deal with the Islamist movement Hamas to swap a Gaza-held soldier for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners was "very close".

"I think that we are very close to a deal on an exchange," Industry Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer told Israeli army radio from Turkey, where he is on a visit.

"There will be a high price to pay, but I think the government will approve it," he said. "This deal will prove to all the mothers of Israel that we are not ready to abandon a single soldier."

Hamas, however, sought to downplay reports of an imminent deal, which it said were the result of "blatant Israeli leaks with the goal of influencing the emotions of our prisoners and their families".

The comments came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there was no deal yet over a swap involving Gilad Shalit, a soldier held in Gaza for more than three years, in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu repeated that any deal would require Cabinet approval and a "public debate", while stressing that no agreement had yet been reached.

"There is no deal, and I don't know if there will be one, but if there will be one, the government will approve it," he said in a speech at National Police headquarters.

"There is no point in deciding as long as we don't have agreement."

Rumours have swirled in recent days in Israel, Gaza and Egypt that a deal was imminent in the German-mediated talks.

On Monday, a Hamas delegation entered Egypt, which has played a key role in the indirect negotiations, to discuss the issue with Egyptian officials.

Shalit, who holds both Israeli and French nationality, was seized in June 2006 when Gaza militant groups, including Hamas, tunnelled out of the enclave and attacked an Israeli army post, killing two other soldiers.

AFP