Shalit videotape handover Friday marks advanced stage in Hamas-Israel prisoner negotiations

Against Israel’s release of 20 Palestinian women-prisoners, Hamas will hand over Friday, Oct. 2, a “sign-of’-life” video-tape of Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit who has spent more than three years in captivity. Both Jerusalem and Hamas spokesmen stressed that this was no more than a small step on a long road ahead before the German-mediated, Egyptian- sponsored negotiations brought Sgt. Gilead Shalit home from his long ordeal in exchange for 1,000 jailed Palestinians.
But according to debkafile‘s military sources, the negotiations are far more advanced than claimed by those officials and many disputed points have already been cleared up. However, both parties are keeping this under their hats, fearing that premature disclosure of their concessions for the trade will arouse strong resistance in both Jerusalem and Damascus.
Speedy progress is also indicated by the fact that the German mediator visited the Gaza Strip 15 times in the last few weeks.
When they find out the truth, some leading ministers in the Netanyahu cabinet are expected to object strongly to the release of 40-50 Palestinian hard-core terrorists sentenced to life for bloody, multiple-casualty attacks. The families of many victims of those terrorists will go as high as the Supreme Court to keep them behind bars.
The prime minister and defense minister hope that the first sight of Gilead Shalit in Hamas prison appearing on the video to be handed over Friday will melt some of the opposition to the deal for his release.
Within the Hamas leadership, three factions are at odds for political reasons: Mahmoud a Zahar, head of the political wing in Gaza, wants the prisoner swap to take place as soon as possible; Muhammad Jabry, Gaza military commander who is in charge of Shalit’s guards, objects to his release; while Politburo chief Khaled Meshaal in Damascus would prefer to drag the prisoner negotiations with Israel over a long period.
At the same time, the prisoner negotiations have gained new impetus from the latest round of Hamas reconciliation talks with Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah over the formation of a Palestinian government coalition to govern up until the June 2010 elections to the Palestinian administration and parliament.
The three Hamas factions have been brought together at this point by the realization that it would be more profitable for their movement to run for election with the Shalit affair behind it and the trump card of having secured the release of 1,000 Palestinians from Israeli jails.
Our Middle East sources warn that if the Hamas-Fatah track breaks down, it could drag the negotiations for Gilead Shalit’s freedom with it.
Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida announced Wednesday that the 20 Palestinian women to be handed over belong to Hamas, Fatah, Jihad Islami and Popular Front – 19 from the West Bank, one from the Gaza Strip.
Gilead Shalit was kidnapped outside Gaza in June 2006 in a cross-border raid by Hamas and allied Islamist groups. His captors have kept him isolated from Red Cross or family visits and communications throughout this period despite the protests his father, Noam Shalit, lodged with world bodies about the fundamental violations of his human rights and the Geneva Conventions.

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