The Israeli government and Palestinian militants are stepping up indirect negotiations on a possible exchange of prisoners.
Israel has invited a senior Egyptian mediator to Jerusalem on Sunday, raising speculation about a possible prisoner swap with the Islamic militant group Hamas. Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman will visit as Israel holds its weekly Cabinet meeting, indicating that significant issues are on the table. Over the past month, it has been widely reported in the Arab media that negotiations are making significant progress.
Under the emerging deal, Israel would release about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held for more than three years in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The sticking point is a list of about 50 hardcore militants responsible for deadly attacks, whom Israel is reluctant to release.
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal says the ball is in Israel's court.
Mashaal said the deal is being held up by Israeli zigzagging and stubbornness. But in the end, he said, Israel would have no choice but to give in to the demands of Hamas and release all the prisoners on the list.
Israel has made lopsided prisoner swaps in the past, but Israeli analyst Dan Schueftan says this government should not repeat the same mistake.
"I don't think anybody will accept responsibility for the hundreds of Israelis that will be killed, either directly by the people we will release, or by the kind of confidence building that the terrorists will have all over the Middle East, not only in Hamas but throughout the area. All the radicals will be encouraged and terrorism will surge," Schueftan said.
But many other Israelis say: Bring the captive soldier home at any price.