There is new momentum in negotiations on a prisoner exchange between
Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas that controls the Gaza
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is due in Cairo for talks with Egyptian mediators on a possible prisoner swap with Israel. Hamas is demanding the release of about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held for more than three years in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas officials say negotiations have accelerated since German mediators got involved, making 11 trips to Gaza in recent weeks. Germany has brokered prisoner swaps in the past between Israel and the Islamic guerrilla group Hezbollah in Lebanon.
But Hamas official Osama Hamdan played down expectations.
He said German mediation does not mean that a breakthrough is imminent because Israel still refuses to accept the conditions of Hamas.
While Israel has carried out many lopsided prisoner swaps in the past, it is reluctant to accept the Hamas demand to release top militants involved in deadly suicide bombings.
Israeli analyst Dan Schueftan says Israel should not give in to Hamas because it will invite more kidnappings and more terrorist blackmail.
"Unfortunately we are not considering the vital strategic interests of Israel, and we are all focused on the need to release Gilad Shalit," he said. "I think we'll be sorry for it if this deal goes through; it will be a defeat of the State of Israel."
But many Israelis say it is part of the national ethos to bring captive soldiers home at any price.