- The Washington Times - Monday, November 23, 2009

JERUSALEM (Agence France-Presse) | Israeli President Shimon Peres said Sunday that there has been “progress” in talks to free soldier Gilad Shalit, who has 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,” Mr. Peres said on Channel 2 commercial television on his return from a trip to Egypt to meet President Hosni Mubarak.

Mr. 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 Lt. Gen. 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 Monday to study the details of a plan to swap Sgt.Shalit for Palestinian prisoners.

“Significant progress has been achieved in the Shalit case,” the Dubai-based channel said on 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” Friday, the report said.

Staff Sgt. Shalit, who holds Israeli and French nationality, was captured by Gaza militants who launched a cross-border raid in June 2006.

Hamas’ armed wing said Sunday that armed groups inside its Gaza stronghold had finalized 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 Sgt. Shalit.

However, one faction, the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, denied it had signed up to the agreement.

The Hamas statement came a day after a rocket was fired into Israel from Gaza, landing without causing casualties or damage, and hours after the military responded with three air raids that wounded eight Palestinians.

It was the latest violence along Gaza’s border, which has been mostly quiet since the operation that the Jewish state launched on the Islamist Hamas in Gaza on Dec. 27 in response to rocket fire. The brief war ended with mutual cease-fires Jan. 18.

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