Hamas delegation expected in Cairo amid reports truce may be near
A Hamas delegation was expected to return to Cairo Monday amid fresh signs the group may be prepared to agree within 48 hours to a long-term truce with Israel to end fighting in the gaza Strip, dpa reported.
Cairo's government-owned daily al-Gumhoriya on Monday cited unnamed "informed Egyptian sources" as saying that they expected Israel and Hamas could sign a truce agreement within the next two days.
The Hamas delegation are returning back to Cairo after consultations in Damascus with the group's exiled political leader, Khaled Meshaal, on Sunday.
The Hamas delegation, headed by senior Gaza leader Mahmoud al- Zahhar who has made his first public appearance in this trip since fighting resumed in Gaza in December, reportedly stopped in Doha for consultations with Qatari leadership en route to Cairo.
Progress in truce talks may stem from a shift in the Israeli negotiating position. Israel has in the past tied negotiations on lifting the blockade on Gaza to "progress" in negotiations on the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured on Israel's border with Gaza in 2006.
Arabic media reports, citing "Palestinian sources," on Sunday suggested that Israel may have agreed to exchange some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including some convicted of killing Israeli civilians or soldiers, in exchange for Shalit's release.
The Palestinian sources reportedly attributed the putative change in Israeli position to the ruling Kadima Party's desire to secure the release of Shalit before the Israeli parliamentary elections on February 10.
But Hamas politburo member Mohammed Nazal, speaking on the satellite news channel al-Jazeera on Monday, cast doubt on the reports that a prisoners swap deal is imminent.
"There is no progress on a deal on Shalit's case as some reports claim," Nazal said.
Egypt is brokering parallel, indirect talks between Hamas and Israeli negotiators to establish a lasting cease-fire.Egyptian intelligence officials are trying to get Hamas to agree to a deal that would end Palestinian arms smuggling into Gaza, a key Israeli demand, and re-open the coastal enclave's border crossings, one of Hamas' key demands.