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Israel, Palestinians Report Progress on Prisoner Swap


Israeli and Palestinian officials are reporting progress on a possible prisoner swap. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, a captured Israeli soldier and top Palestinian militants are at the heart of the emerging deal.

Palestinian militants have handed over a list of hundreds of prisoners they want released in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. He was abducted more than nine months ago in a cross-border raid by gunmen from the Islamic militant group Hamas and is being held in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad says Shalit could be released in a week, if Israel meets the group's demands.

Hamad told Israel Radio that the "big battle" will be over the names of the prisoners to be freed. Hamas is demanding the release of top militants including Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouti, who was sentenced to five life terms for planning deadly attacks against Israelis.

The head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ahmad Saadat, is also on the list. Israel accuses him of masterminding the assassination of Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam Ze'evi five years ago.

Israeli Cabinet Minister Rafi Eitan told the same radio program that releasing prisoners could threaten Israel's security.

But he also said that Israel should make every effort to bring the captive soldier home.

It is a dilemma for the Israeli government: It sympathizes with the soldier's family, but the families of terror victims oppose the deal. Tzion Suwiri lost his son, daughter and son-in-law in a Palestinian attack. He said negotiating a prisoner swap is an act of weakness.

"The message we are sending is: Murder Israelis and kidnap soldiers, and we will release terrorists," he said.

Israeli officials are playing down Palestinian claims of an imminent deal. As one Israeli Cabinet minister put it: "There is still a long way to go."

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