Israel and Hamas have reached an agreement on the identities of 230 Palestinian prisoners to be freed as part of an exchange deal to secure the release of an Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit captured by Palestinian militants in June 2006, army radio reported.
However, dispute still remains regarding the fate of 120 additional prisoners which the Islamic faction is demanding to be freed in the first stage of the deal, the radio said.
The deadlock in the negotiations was broken after a decision by a special ministerial committee to relax the criteria for defining a prisoner with "blood on his hands," a euphemism used in Israel for those involved in killing Israeli citizens.
Israel was only willing to release 44 prisoners on the Hamas list initially, the radio said.
Nevertheless, the criteria change needs cabinet approval and it may not go through given Shin Bet (Israel's internal security agency) head Yuval Diskin's vehement opposition.
Meanwhile, a senior Hamas source told news portal 'YNet' that the Islamic faction is looking for guarantees as to how Israel will implement its part of the deal.
"The Palestinians are demanding guarantees on the way Israel plans to implement its part in the hostage exchange agreement", the Hamas source told 'YNet'.
"The second part of the deal will begin with Schalit making his way to Egypt. If he reaches Egypt and Israel decides to violate its commitment, will someone be able to guarantee that this will not happen? This is why we demand clarifications regarding the guarantees as well," he reportedly said. Egypt is said to have played a central role in the talks between the two sides, the portal said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday addressing a conference of presidents of various American Jewish organisations had said that he does "not share in the optimism" regarding recent media reports of Schalit's imminent release. (Courtesy: Zee News, February 19, 2008)