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Israel Pushes for Prisoner Swap With Hamas

Israel's outgoing government is pushing for what many describe as a lopsided prisoner swap with Palestinian militants.

Israel has sent an intelligence chief and a top negotiator to Cairo in a last ditch effort to win the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Egypt is mediating between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas, which captured Shalit nearly three years ago in a cross-border raid. The soldier is being held in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip but has not been seen since his capture.

Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is anxious to close a deal before a new Israeli government takes power in the next few weeks.

Mr. Olmert told the Cabinet he instructed Israeli negotiators to complete the talks in Cairo. He will convene the Cabinet in special session on Monday, possibly to finalize the agreement.

Under the emerging deal, Israel would release about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit. Israel has softened its position and agreed to release top militants responsible for deadly suicide bombings.

There is broad speculation in the Israeli media that a deal could be imminent, but Cabinet Minister Isaac Herzog urged caution.

Herzog said Israel does not know what Hamas's demands are and therefore "it would be appropriate to keep expectations realistic."

Hamas would not confirm the Israeli reports of progress.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Hamas has not received anything new from Israel and will not change its positions.

The prisoner swap is a source of hot debate in Israel. While many Israelis support bringing Gilad Shalit home at any price, others believe that lopsided prisoner swaps will bring more terrorism and more terrorist blackmail.