Conflicting Hamas Reports on Prisoner Swap Talks

Conflicting reports that Hamas had resumed indirect negotiations with Israel on exchanging an Israeli soldier for Palestinians jailed by Israel surfaced Wednesday as Hamas officials both confirmed and denied a resumption of talks.

Hamas official Ali Barakeh said late Wednesday a delegation was in Cairo to pursue a deal. "The contacts through Egypt with the Olmert government have resumed," he added in a statement.

But a Hamas official in Gaza, Ayman Taha, told Al Arabiya TV after Barakeh’s statement that "negotiations have not resumed."

"The main sticking point is Israel’s intransigence over the release of 450 long-serving prisoners," said Taha.

"The first round of negotiations ended last week and any time the Israeli enemy is willing to resume talks from the point they stopped, we in Hamas will be ready. The door is still open at this stage to resume the negotiations," Taha added.

Egypt has been trying to mediate a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas for most of the time since Palestinians captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006.

The Hamas leadership in exile lives in Damascus and sometimes sends messages slightly different from those sent by Hamas leaders living under siege in the Gaza Strip.

"There is nothing we can say on this issue at the moment," Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said in Jersusalem.

The Egyptian-mediated negotiations broke down earlier this month when Olmert rejected Hamas’s demand that Israel free 1,400 Palestinian prisoners, including about 450 long-serving inmates.

(Alarabiya.net and Agencies)

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