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Palestinian Faction: Kidnapped Israeli Soldier Could be Freed


One of the three Palestinian factions holding a kidnapped Israeli soldier in the Gaza Strip says a solution to the crisis is imminent, but the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas is skeptical.

A Palestinian group, called the Popular Resistance Committees, says it expects a solution to the crisis over kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, 19, within days. The PRC is one of three militant groups, which kidnapped the corporal four months ago during a raid on an Israeli army base on the Gaza border.

In a statement, the PRC said the three groups have agreed to a proposal by Egyptian mediators to exchange Shalit for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

It is the first time that any of the groups directly involved in the kidnapping has said a deal is imminent.

Palestinian analyst Wadia Abu Nasser says moderate President Mahmoud Abbas has been working behind the scenes to end the crisis.

"The Palestinian president is pressing the Egyptians to make this exchange deal as soon as possible," he said.

But the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas, whose armed wing was also involved in the kidnapping, says that, while progress has been made, a prisoner swap is not imminent.

The sticking point appears to be in the timing. Hamas and its allies say that when they free Shalit, Palestinian prisoners must be released simultaneously. But Israel says Shalit must be released first, and later, it would free prisoners as a goodwill gesture.

Israeli spokeswoman Miri Eisen says Israel cannot be seen as caving in to what she describes as "terrorist blackmail."

"For us, it's very important that the terrorists who took Shalit are not the ones, who will have a benefit from the fact that they took so, and that we would release the prisoners after that," she said.

Shalit's kidnapping prompted a punishing four-month Israeli offensive in Gaza that has piled further pressure on the Hamas government, already crippled by international sanctions.

But neither side wants to be seen as caving in to the demands of the other. So, despite a flurry of Arab media reports over the past month about an imminent prisoner swap, the deal has remained elusive.