Netanyahu: Israel accepts German-mediated Shalit deal
Israel has accepted a German-mediated proposal for a prisoners swap with Hamas involving captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, dpa reported.
Israel decided to accept the proposal, despite it being "difficult" and "not simple," Netanyahu told his cabinet.
He said the proposal balanced the need to secure the release of Shalit, held captive by the Islamist movement ruling the Gaza Strip for the past five years, and the need not to endanger the safety of Israeli citizens.
However, Netanyahu said Hamas had not yet provided a "formal answer" to the proposal.
The Israeli premier gave no details, and it was not immediately clear whether he was referring to a new or an old proposal.
A joint call for Shalit's release by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Berlin on June 17 had prompted reports that Germany and France were involved in a renewed mediation effort that would also involve a further easing of the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas' spokesman in Gaza, held Netanyahu "fully responsible" for the stalemate in the indirect negotiations on a prisoners swap.
"We known nothing of what Netanyahu is talking about. There is nothing new in the prisoners' exchange deal, and Netanyahu is practicing lies," he said in a statement.
Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza, told reporters the talks "won't be resumed until the captors' demands are met."
Hamas has demanded Israel free 1,000 prisoners - among them hardcore militants serving long sentences - in exchange for Shalit.
Almost 5,400 Palestinian "security prisoners" are currently held in Israeli prisons.
Saturday marked the fifth anniversary of Hamas's cross-border raid on Shalit's army base in southern Israel.
The soldier's father, Noam, told reporters Sunday that Netanyahu should pay the price demanded by Hamas for Shalit.
"You have no mandate, Mr Netanyahu, to impose a death sentence on Gilad," he said.
Meanwhile, in Gaza on Saturday, dozens of relatives of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails urged Shalit's captors to stand by their demands.
Netanyahu reiterated Sunday that his government had decided to toughen prison conditions for Palestinian militants, and to strip them of certain "privileges," including the right to study for a degree inside the prison walls.
"This party is over," he said.
Netanyahu's spokesman, Mark Regev, could give no further examples of privileges that would be canceled, but said any further steps would be taken "in accordance with international and Israeli law."
He insisted no international obligation existed to allow inmates to study for a masters degree.