Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has confirmed rumors that talks are taking place in Cairo between Israel and Hamas to negotiate a prisoner swap, the Israel daily Haaretz reported Tuesday.
London based Al-Hayat newspaper had reported earlier Tuesday that Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal was to arrive in Cairo to begin negotiations.
Barak told Israeli radio that "he preferred not to say anything [about the negotiations] because it doesn’t help," Haaretz reported, despite saying that there was a "grain of truth" in the rumors.
Al-Hayat reported that the Israeli negotiating team had demonstrated its ability to compromise and the paper quoted Palestinian sources as saying that an agreement was reached over the number of prisoners to be deported from the West Bank after being released.
Hamas and Israel are still in disagreement however over the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released as part of a deal, Haaretz reported.
Militants from Gaza captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid in June 2006.
In exchange for his release Hamas has asked for the freedom of 1,000 Palestinian political prisoners, including a list of 450 named individuals and another 350 left to Israel’s discretion.
Israel says many of the Palestinians have "blood on their hands" and has either refused their release or suggested they be exiled abroad.
Hamas refused the suggestion of forced exile, and a deal has not been struck.
Israel recently decided to toughen prison conditions for Palestinian inmates in an attempt to put pressure on Hamas to give up some of their conditions for a prisoner swap.
The Red Cross has criticized Hamas’ refusal to allow Shalit visitors and other rights typically afforded to prisoners of war.
Hamas says agreeing to these requests would compromise the soldier’s location.
According to latest reports from the Palestinian Authority, 6,000 Palestinians are being detained in Israeli prisons, including 219 held without charge in administrative detention.