By Marwa Awad
(source: Al Arabiya News)
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal
The head of the Islamist Palestinian group Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, arrived in Cairo on Tuesday, a senior Egyptian security official said, amid reports that a new round of talks on a prisoner swap with Israel was due to start in Egypt.
The security official said Mr. Meshaal, who arrived with a delegation from Hamas, met with Egyptian intelligence officials to discuss reconciliation between his group and the secular Fatah Movement led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and also touched on the issue of the prisoner swap.
“The meeting dealt with an assortment of issues mainly the Palestinian reconciliation. The prisoner swap was discussed on the margins of the meeting,” the official told Reuters, without giving further details.
Egypt has been mediating talks between Israel and Hamas over a prisoner deal that would see the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit – captured in a cross-border raid in 2006 – in exchange for about 1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. Israeli defense official Amos Gilad had visited Cairo last week to discuss “issues of concern” to Israel.
Hamas has been demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel in exchange for Mr. Shalit. The deal has been bogged down over which prisoners will be among the 1,000 Israel has agreed to release. The Al Hayat newspaper on Tuesday quoted Palestinian sources as saying that the Israeli side has shown “flexibility” in freeing Palestinian prisoners from Arab East Jerusalem and Israeli-Arab inmates – two categories that had been rejected by Israel.
“There is no progress on the Shalit file at the moment,” the Egyptian security official said.
Israel has freed hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in two previous prisoner exchanges in 1985 and 2004 in exchange for Israelis held by Palestinian groups. Mr. Meshaal lives in exile in Syria while Hamas runs the Gaza Strip. The Islamist group is a sworn enemy of Israel and has refused to sign up to interim peace agreements concluded with Israel by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.